Director Guillermo del Toro is known for creating an eerie vibe filled with mystery and wonder in his movies. And his latest film, a remake of the 1947 “Nightmare Alley,” does that with beautiful cinematography, an immersive world and a divided plot.
After burning down his house, Stan (Bradley Cooper) finds himself at a carnival where he is horrified by a geek, a staple act at the fair which involves a deranged man. Despite the terror he witnesses, he picks up a carney job with ringleader Clem (Willem Dafoe) and befriends a clairvoyant (Toni Collette) and her alcoholic husband Pete (David Strathairn).
While working with the couple, he learns Pete’s dangerous skills of manipulation and falls in love with an electrifying lady named Molly (Rooney Mara). His own descent into power and madness take him to a mysterious psychiatrist (Cage Blanchett) and a rich man (Richard Jenkins) looking to find answers from the beyond.
Del Torro does a remarkable job placing viewers in a modern version of the 30s and 40s. It’s a beautiful film thanks to the wonderful costume design, production design and cinematography. It’s a visually pleasing film, but in terms of the story “Nightmare Alley falls short.”
Viewers don’t meet Blanchett’s and Jenkins’ characters until about an hour into the movie when Stan’s journey wanders outside of the carnival.
It feels like there are two different movies in one, complete with a whole new cast of side show characters, and it never merges well. The story would’ve been better off staying in the carnival rather than venturing out beyond what the film could handle in time constraints, despite being a 90-minute movie. As a limited series, maybe the story would’ve had more time to flesh itself out.
"Nightmare Alley" isn't a movie that makes viewers think long and hard like "The Shape of Water" did, but it's a fun movie for del Toro to add to his filmography.
See “Nightmare Alley” in theaters starting Friday, December 17. Follow the reporter Samantha Incorvaia on Twitter at @s_incorvaia.