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Nightmare Alley (Parent And Baby Screening) (15)

Cast: Richard Jenkins, Willem Dafoe, Toni Collette, Cate Blanchett, Bradley Cooper, Rooney Mara
Genre: Thriller
Author(s): Guillermo del Toro, Kim Morgan
Director: Guillermo del Toro
Release Date: 21/01/2022
Running Time: 150mins
Country: US/Mex
Year: 2021

Stanton Carlisle joins a carnival run by Clem Hoatley and learns tricks of the trade from fading double act Zeena and Pete Krumbein. The newcomer beguiles naive showgirl Molly Cahill and the lovebirds run away from Clem, and the protection of strong man Bruno, to establish themselves as a speciality act at the Copacabana club in Buffalo, New York. A diabolical deception involving Dr Lilith Ritter and her former patient, powerful industrialist Ezra Grindle, is a swindle too far for Stanton.


LondonNet Film Review
Nightmare Alley (15)

In the misery-soaked opening section of Guillermo del Toro’s noir thriller, adapted by the Oscar-winning Mexican director and Kim Morgan from William Lindsay Gresham’s 1946 novel, a booze-sodden, retired mentalist warns the slippery anti-hero to steer clear of clairvoyance. “No good comes out of a spook show,” he blathers, hungover. His lamentable warning falls on deaf ears, on screen and off. The charlatan protagonist falsely communes with the dead to exploit paying customers’ grief and del Toro tethers a starry cast, including Bradley Cooper, Cate Blanchett, Toni Collette and Willem Dafoe, to a tawdry tale of duplicity and avarice that runs dry of tension before the tangled plot enters its third languid hour…

This Nightmare Alley doesn’t have to jump through censorship hoops like the 1947 film version headlining Tyrone Power as the seedy carnival worker destined for an almighty fall from grace. Here, a teasing glimpse of full-frontal male nudity in a steaming bathtub and some suggestive soaping secure a 15 certificate almost as much as spurts of stomach-churning violence including an inglorious end for a live fowl and a human skull crushed in queasy close-up.

Fantastical, otherworldly elements, a signature of del Toro’s earlier work including Pan’s Labyrinth and The Shape Of Water, are all smoke and mirrors and the con feels like it may be on us to muster concern for underwritten doomed characters as that headless chicken comes home to roost. Cooper lacks menace and is, to quote Collette’s bogus medium, simply “easy on the eyes, honey”. Thankfully, Blanchett slinks delectably through the second half as a femme fatale psychologist, who has accumulated enough personal secrets about her clientele to keep herself in velvet capes until the soft lighting dims.

Stanton Carlisle (Cooper) joins a carnival run by Clem Hoatley (Dafoe) and learns tricks of the trade from fading double act Zeena and Pete Krumbein (Collette, David Strathairn). The newcomer beguiles naive showgirl Molly Cahill (Rooney Mara) and the lovebirds run away from Clem, and the protection of strong man Bruno (Ron Perlman), to establish themselves as a speciality act at the Copacabana club in Buffalo, New York. A diabolical deception involving Dr Lilith Ritter (Blanchett) and her former patient, powerful industrialist Ezra Grindle (Richard Jenkins), is a swindle too far for Stanton. “If your foot slips, we both fall,” Lilith sternly reminds the chancer.

Nightmare Alley seduces the eyes with glorious production and costume design but the heart goes a-wanting, despite simmering sexual tension between Cooper and Blanchett (“I know you’re no good. I know that because neither am I!”) Pacing is pedestrian and only shifts out of first gear in a breathless closing act that serves its just desserts chilled and with a grimace.

– Kim Hu


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