Review – Nightmare Alley

By John Cooper

“A genuinely unsettling nightmare experience. “

Guillermo del Toro returns to our screens with another dark spine-chilling film based on the book by William Lindsay Gresham NIGHTMARE ALLEY.

Set in 1940s New York, down on his luck, Stanton Carlisle (Bradley Cooper) endears himself to a clairvoyant Zeena (Toni Collette) and her mentalist husband Pete (David Strathairn) at a travelling carnival, he crafts a golden ticket path to success using his newly acquired knowledge, to swindle the elite and wealthy 1940s New York society. With the virtuous Molly (Rooney Mara) loyally by his side, Stanton plots to con a dangerous tycoon (Richard Jenkins) with the aid of a mysterious psychiatrist (Cate Blanchett) who might be his most formidable opponent yet.

This film has such an interesting story with such dark tendencies that it becomes a complete circle. It’s hard to explain, but it’s a story that takes you on such an extraordinary journey where nearly every turn you really don’t know what to expect. We follow Stanton Carlisle upon his journey and try to explore his purpose in what he wants to do as he looks for a new life. We see him explore this travelling carnival and meet such interesting yet strange people who do some crazy thing’s just to make a quick buck off of the public. But once he meets this mentalist, he finds his true purpose in conning the rich people of New York. It starts to become a disturbing, nightmarish movie from there.

However, this film’s great cinematography really made it feel particularly unsettling. It seemed to feel quite unique as it drove the presence of this film feeling like a Nightmare. It’s odd, but this floating camera taking us around a carnival and 1940s New York felt like we were almost this spiritual presence following Stanton Carlisle, as it made it feel like you were walking through this haunted house with every turn feeling like something was always lurking behind a corner. It just happened to help make this film feel like a genuinely unsettling nightmare experience. It worked in favour as well within this film as it helped deliver such powerful tension towards scenes whilst also making you feel unsettled and disturbed at the same time.

This film manages to have everything done right to make such an excellent movie for the most part. But what it lacked the most was the leading member of this cast Bradley Cooper who plays Stanton Carlisle. He manages to give a performance that was, whilst primarily suitable, lacking in driving the entire story across when we needed something to help convey what we should be feeling for the lead character of this film. He deals with looking back at the death of his father so often you struggle to tell who he actually is as a person and want to understand more of who he is; otherwise, you find his character hard to actually follow if we still don’t know enough about him within the first act of the movie. He manages to deliver some great scenes throughout this film. Still, as he is the main driving character of the film, you find it hard to understand anything else that is going on. However, the rest of this stellar cast delivers some excellent performances, with Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara giving us some of their top performances in this film. 

Overall, whilst Bradley Cooper leading this film was a slight letdown, it still managed to deliver such a spine-chilling experience. From the rest of the cast pulling off some great performances to the cinematography delivering such a strong unsettling presence for the audience, this film felt like a genuinely thrilling Nightmare experience and is worth checking out in a cinema.

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