"Nightmare Alley" del Toro movie review

“Nightmare Alley”, del Toro remake of film noir about a flawed carny as an anti-hero

Toronto 2019-7

Nightmare Alley” is a 2021 remake of a 1947 (Edmund Goulding) horror film noir, directed by Guillermo del Toro, written with Kim Morgan, based on a novel of the same name by William Lindsay Gresham.

The story presents a flawed protagonist, Stan Carlisle (Bradley Cooper), who becomes a flim-flam man practicing clairvoyance as WWII begins, after some unfortunate events when he works as a carny.  He is shocked that the carnival owner Clem (Willem Dafoe) has abused a man called a “geek” who becomes the freak that audiences gawk at.  But then he goes downhill himself.  He performs a clairvoyant act with Zeena Krumbein (Cate Blanchett) and her husband Pete (David Strathairn), whom he accidentally kills with wood alcohol.  He starts performing with Molly (Rooney Mara) to whom he is attracted.

He takes Molly to Chicago and begins his dubious career as a clairvoyant, attracting all kinds of characters into his life like psychologist Lilith Ritter, as well as police who give him a stylized polygraph test.  After his world blows up with some shootings and death, he winds up begging for a job as a “geek” at the end of the movie.

The entire film is very stylized as a period piece, which is somewhat the point of the film’s art work.  There is constant exaggeration and hyperbole. The film was shot in Toronto, Buffalo, and NYC (indoors mostly Toronto).

I recall a car trip from Dallas to New Mexico in May 1984, when I spent a night in Vernon, Texas and visited a carnival.  There was a freak show with a deformed woman who introduced herself and then made the patrons feel guilty about paying to gawk.

The film presents an interesting alternate meaning for the word "geek", indeed.

Name: “Nightmare Alley“

Director, writer: Guillermo del Toro, William Lindsey Gresham (novel)

Released: 2021/12/1

Format: 1.85:1

When and how viewed:          Regal Ballston Quarter, 12/19/2021, afternoon, small audience

Length: 150

Rating: R

Companies: TSG, Fox Searchlight (Disney Searchlight)

Stars: ****_

(Posted: Sunday, December 19, 2021 at 5 PM EST)