Nightmare Alley 2021 Movie Scene Bradley Cooper as Stanton Carlisle leaving his house in flames while smoking a cigarette

Nightmare Alley [2021]

If you’re expecting Nightmare Alley to be another del Toro classic, please lower your expectations. This is a strange and tedious affair that I can see working with a much darker and nastier tone. Instead of treating it as a psychological neo-noir, Del Toro couldn’t help giving it a dreamy and almost easygoing atmosphere with sleek visuals. Granted, it dissolves at times, showing just glimpses of what could have been. The best way to approach this movie is to think of it as a quirky period drama about hustlers. I guess grifters would be a better term as they’re exploiting vulnerable people.

In my opinion, Hellboy II: The Golden Army was del Toro’s last great movie after such masterpieces as El Espinazo del Diablo, Hellboy, and El Laberinto del Fauno. And sure, I could also add Mimic, Cronos, and Pacific Rim to the list as they were above the average. However, I really didn’t like Crimson Peak and The Shape of Water. And I tried watching them several times over the years, each time giving up after the first thirty minutes. And you should know that this one is a whopping two and a half hours long.

Well, after this del Toro rant, it’s time to talk about his latest movie Nightmare Alley. First of all, you should know it’s based on a novel of the same name written by William Lindsay Gresham. This is an immersive story of a man with a dark past trying to make it in an even darker world. After we’ve met all the characters, the story slows down to a crawl but as soon as Cate Blanchett as Dr. Lilith Ritter shows up, it really picks up. She fucking saved the day here. Along with the rest of the cast.

Stanton Carlisle just buried something that looks like a body underneath his house and then set it ablaze. He boards a bus and ends up at a carnival where he’s given an opportunity to start his life over. And he does. In this strange world of tricksters and mentalists, he reinvents himself. However, trouble seems to follow him wherever he goes. And soon, it will find him here too.

I had no idea that things like this were going on at carnivals. You just don’t think about these things. About the exploitations, immoral practices and all the other shit that goes on behind closed doors. However, I do remember that there’s something so revealing about the nature of these places.

And I think this is what Nightmare Alley was trying to convey. To use the carnival and Stanton as a mirror to show a part of human nature we really don’t like looking at. Contrast that with the purpose of the carnival that’s to look at things. However, I think these powerful concepts were better explored in the original novel.

I would also like to add that the characters are pretty unlikeable. You don’t care if something bad happens to them or if they just disappear. Moreover, you will wish some of them fucking disappeared. Too lavish for its own good, Nightmare Alley will surely “blow away” the film critic crowd but it will be just another watchable movie for regular viewers.

The film I kept thinking about is Gaspar Noé’s I Stand Alone. Now, I feel that if del Toro used the same overload of dread and despair with just hints of hope, this would have been a much better movie. 

Still, I can’t emphasize enough just how beautiful the cinematography is along with sets and every other visual aspect. Every fucking frame is a picture you can screenshot and I had trouble picking the right ones for this review. So, if for nothing else, Nightmare Alley is worth watching for the visuals alone. Finally, I can’t help mentioning Edgar Wright’s Last Night in Soho. It’s a similarly visually stunning drama that simply goes nowhere. And the director is someone who’s incredibly talented and skilled.

Director: Guillermo del Toro

Writers: Guillermo del Toro, Kim Morgan, William Lindsay Gresham

Cast: Bradley Cooper, Cate Blanchett, Toni Collette, Willem Dafoe, Richard Jenkins, Rooney Mara, David Strathairn

Fun Facts: Ron Perlman’s seventh collaboration with director Guillermo del Toro. Pinocchio (2022) will be their eighth.


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