Bradley Cooper in the film NIGHTMARE ALLEY. Photo by Kerry Hayes. © 2021 20th Century Studios All Rights Reserved
Nightmare Alley is the story of Stan Carlisle (Bradley Cooper), a mysterious man who joins a carnival in 1939 to escape his past. Charismatic and motivated, Carlisle recognizes that he has a gift for the art of mentalism. Working his way up the carnival ladder and learning the trade Carlisle, develops his own schemes to use his talents for profit. Of course, in this game it is easy to get in over one’s head…
What works in Nightmare Alley is the gripping suspense coupled with exceptional performances, cinematography, and production design. Directed and co-written by Guillermo Del Toro (The Shape of Water, Pan’s Labyrinth), the auteur presents a disturbing and mesmerizing account of carny life as he weaves together players full of ambitious vile. And for a story dripping in malice with a smile, there’s an inheritance beauty in the presentation. For example, cinematographer Dan Laustsen (John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum) uses a rustic color palette to light up his carnival scenes in a way that makes them concurrently warm and chilling. Finally, thanks to an exceptional cast, audiences are likely to feel fully engaged and invested in the flawed and often misguided characters.
Nightmare Alley is haunting. Individuals who get squeamish at grotesque situations or unexpected gore will not enjoy Nightmare Alley as much as others. While the violence is never gratuitous, many sequences might produce a great deal of discomfort if viewers are not prepared. Furthermore, the narrative is intentionally dark, like a fairy tale that goes horribly awry. More simply: this is not a feel-good movie in any sense of the word.
While certainly not going to be universally appreciated, Nightmare Alley is a gorgeous film that will stick with people long after the credits. For those interested in twisted mysteries, it’s hard to go wrong with this film. Now available for streaming on HBO Max and Hulu.
Recommended if you Enjoyed: Pan’s Labyrinth, The Shape of Water