Nightmare Alley (2021)

Nightmare Alley (2021) Movie review, plot, cast

Nigthmare Alley is a neo-noir psychological thriller signed by two-time Oscar winner Guillermo del Toro and based on the 1946 novel of the same name by William Gresham. The novel was already screened in 1947, but del Toro stated that he had not seen that version so far. The film premiered in New York on December 1 last year, while cinema distribution started through Searchlight Pictures two weeks later.

NIGHTMARE ALLEY movie plot, review

The plot of the film is set before the beginning of the Second World War and follows Stanton Carlisle (Bradley Cooper), a charming and ambitious man with a mysterious past who, due to circumstances, is employed in a traveling carnival. There he meets the clairvoyant Zena (Tony Colette) and her mentalistic husband Pete (David Stratern) who give him a gold card for his own success. With the help of the loyal Molly (Rooney Mara), she uses the newly acquired knowledge to cheat the rich New York elite, including the dangerous tycoon Ezra (Richard Jenkins).

Guillermo del Toro is a respected author who signs visually exceptional fantasies, more precisely fairy tales for adults in which he combines science fiction, the horrors of the supernatural world and the world of dreams. After the Oscar-winning film The Shape of Water, which was typical of him, this time he presents Nigthmare Alley which is definitely his most humane / down-to-earth film to date. This time, the horrors of the film refer exclusively to the very bottom of human nature and human behavior, making us, as viewers, more afraid of men than monsters.

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NIGHTMARE ALLEY movie cast Bradley Cooper as Stanton “Stan” Carlisle (source: imdb)


Our seemingly mysterious protagonist plays with the supernatural in the only way that exists in the real world – as a game, deception, trick, smart reading of people, or any other way someone wants to describe a charlatan, a man who tries to manipulate and exploit others. for their own benefit. Initially silent and silent, our protagonist gradually reveals the tricks of the mentalist and secret codes with which he can improve his illusions, and thus his ability to “read thoughts” is gaining a growing audience.

In the prologue, it is clear to us that Stanton is not a moral bulk, and his arrival in the world of freaks and geeks further dehumanizes him, making his lack of morals come to light. Gradually, he became a noir character from films from the late 1940s – blurry, ostentatious and defiant, and this is confirmed in the second half of the film, which became a neo-noir in terms of genre. The change of genre is also confirmed by the appearance of the fatal woman, the seductive psychiatrist Lilith Ritter (Cate Blanchett), who unequivocally associates it with adventure and danger.

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NIGHTMARE ALLEY movie cast Bradley Cooper and Rooney Mara (source: imdb)


The story is quite direct and straightforward and can be seen as a study of a professional liar, manipulator and conspirator who earns a lot of money by believing and grieving those who can afford this kind of spiritual consolation. Given that we are slowly realizing what kind of man he is, we are not sure if Stanton is in love with Molly or just represents a naive potential partner for his future success. We also have doubts whether there was an accident or a murder at the carnival, considering that Stanton relies on his silence on that issue.

The atmosphere of the film is oppressive, primarily because most of the characters are cunning and ruthless people who conspire for their own obvious or hidden benefits. Actors’ performances support this perspective, especially the great Bradley Cooper, whose character compensates for his omissions and weaknesses with the false strength of his craft, without ever being really compassionate. The supporting cast is deep in terms of the number and quality of actors, and the atmosphere and material are perfectly suited to present Cate Blanchett’s brilliant sensuality and penetrating views.

NIGHTMARE ALLEY movie cast Bradley Cooper as Stanton “Stan” Carlisle Cate Blanchett as Dr. Lilith Ritter (source: imdb)


Del Toro is a movie Crimson Peak demonstrated that he skillfully handles old-fashioned narratives in which he combines his own unique style that possesses striking and absorbing visual elements. Here he remains consistent with his visual style, themes and messages, but Nigthmare Alley above all, it should be seen as a love letter to noir films that would certainly not be of such quality in the hands of another, less passionate filmmaker. My possible objection comes down to the fact that the film could have rejected at least half an hour of its duration.

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Nigthmare Alley it has the characteristic atmosphere and sensibility of Guillermo del Toro’s works, although it stands out from its traditional genre offer – a neonoir shot with a lot of passion and knowledge and a film that deserves our respect. Final rating: 9/10

NIGHTMARE ALLEY Movie cast and characters

  • Bradley Cooper as Stanton “Stan” Carlisle
  • Cate Blanchett as Dr. Lilith Ritter
  • Toni Collette as Zeena Krumbein
  • Willem Dafoe as Clem Hoately
  • Richard Jenkins as Ezra Grindle
  • Rooney Mara as Molly Cahill
  • Ron Perlman as Bruno
  • Mary Steenburgen as Miss Harrington
  • David Strathairn as Pete Krumbein
  • Holt McCallany as Anderson
  • Clifton Collins Jr.
  • Tim Blake Nelson as Carny Boss
  • Jim Beaver as Sheriff Jedediah Judd
  • Mark Povinelli as The Major
  • Romina Power
  • Paul Anderson
  • David Hewlett as Dr. Elrood

source: IMDB

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NIGHTMARE ALLEY | Official Trailer | Searchlight Pictures