Movie of the Week: Nightmare Alley (2022)

Guillermo del Toro directs Bradley Cooper, Rooney Mara and Willem Dafoe in this noir nightmare where an amoral carnival worker learns the grift of cold reading people and puts it to nefarious use.

All seeing eyes. Intricate period production design. Beautiful freaks. Monstrous humanity. Portentous monologues. Noses punched off faces. Massive circles looping around to meet their fate. I prefer del Toro’s doomed nightmares rather than his sentimental fairytales. Give me the ornate bleakness of The Devil’s Backbone and Crimson Peak over the slightly sickly sweet and naive Pan’s Labyrinth or The Shape Of Water. People losing their souls and revealing the beast inside… yum! This is probably his most erotic and adult work. There’s no virgin child here. Mara’s fragile Molly might have a sad innocence to her but she’s a more sexualised figure than Sally Hawkins or Spanish tweens ever could or should be. Toni Collette and Cate Blanchett are framed and lit sensually, their immaculate costumes poured onto them like glue. This was greenlit with Leonardo DiCaprio in the lead and as much as I love him I’m kinda glad the lumbering Cooper picked up the role instead. Stanton Carlisle needs to be a blank space, a jar with no contents. He barely talks in the first act, anything he says later on is cribbed and rehearsed. It is role for a bulk, not a brain. And Leo already trod similar waters in Shutter Island anyway, an oblivious man being pulled towards an ultimate truth he will not like the weight or look of. There probably should be more circus sideshow stuff throughout but the second half shifts to an urban con that is equally as fascinating. That massive circle motif ain’t playing, it overwhelms. We take a long, unpredictable route back to the start but we know exactly how this will end from the earliest moments, just not how exactly we will get there. Rian Johnson’s house composer Nathan Johnson jumps ship and does a perfect Carter Burwell pastiche which suits del Toro’s mournful vision to a tee. Masterful, elegiac, nasty.


Perfect Double Bill: Shutter Island (2010)

Check out my wife Natalie’s Point Horror blog

We also do a podcast together called The Worst Movies We Own. It is available on Spotify or here

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