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Drama - US

Nightmare Alley (2022 in Spain)

Duration2h 30m
RatingsUK: 15, USA: R, Denmark: 11 
Source of storyA 1940s novel by William Lindsay Gresham
DirectorGuillermo del Toro
Writers/ScriptGuillermo del Toro, Kim Morgan
StarringBradley Cooper, Cate Blanchett, Toni Collette, Willem Dafoe, Richard Jenkins, Rooney Mara, Ron Perlman, Mary Steenburgen, David Strathairn,  
RatingsIMDb: 7.4 by 10,758 people.  Rotten Tomatoes: 80% by 282 reviewers. Review2view: 6.5/10.

Elevator Pitch: In the American carnival world of the 1940s a “geek” is a beastlike man who is induced to bite the heads of chickens and the like, for entertainment. Stanton Carlisle in a man who appears to have burnt down his family home and gone on the road. He gets odd jobs in a carnival, and helps Clem the geek wrangler, including searching out the geek when he escapes. Stan also helps Zeena a mind reader and romances Molly, a young woman who electrocutes herself. They run away together creating a mindreading act, and develop a “spook show”, connecting gullible people with the dead. When Stan meets Lilith Ritter, a crooked psychologist, they embark on a dangerous scam. 

Content: There is no nudity, and only a bit of implied sex, but almost continuous smoking and drinking. Stan sets fire to his house and it is implied that it contains the body of his father. Once in the carny he joins the gritty group of show people spending time with Zeena and Pete the mind readers and getting to know Molly. Later he and Molly have a classy mind reading act. Stan gets together with Lilith who has scars (literally) from her association with the millionaire Ezra Grindle. Stan spends more and more time with Grindle using information supplied by Lilith.  It is dark a lot of the time.

A View: I can’t help quoting the Times critic who said “this is bad people doing very bad things very slowly”. The whole atmosphere of the film is suitably nightmarish and Bradley Cooper does a good job as Stan, but I thought that some of the plot was a bit obscure. In this I sense that many of the critics had seen the 1947 film and therefore had a handle on it. It could be a case of style over substance. I loved the deco environment and was distressed by the bits that are supposed to be distressing, but there were a number of other films on in our local multiplex at the time that I might have preferred.

I have reviewed a few of the director’s films here. Three probably worth a view are Hellboy, Blade II, The Shape of Water .

About Victor R Gibson

Author of this site three technical books and two novels


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