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  • Writer's pictureStrictly Films

Nightmare Alley; Grade: B+

Merry Christmas Eve everyone! Hope everyone is had a grand night out at Christmas church service, eating out, attending Christmas parties and such, and of course going to the cinema… Lots of movies released this year, feeling blessed!

Nightmare Alley tells a story about a man named Stanton (Bradley Cooper) whom set a house on fire, left a dead body and left the town behind as well. Stanton has nowhere else to go, as he came across a carney by the name of Clem (Willem Dafoe) as he performed a show at a small carnival. After a long nights hard work by Stanton, Clem brings him onto the crew, as he’ll provide him food and a bed. As Stanton gets acquainted with the whole Carney system, Stanton develops many grand ideas for acts and such, more towards illusions and black magic area especially. Stanton becomes extremely successful in an act he created himself, so successful that he left the carney life behind and got his own dinner table show. Watch as a man becomes extremely greedy due to building on manipulating others through a series of lies.

Nightmare Alley is the return of Oscar winner Guillermo Del Toro whom won Best Director and Best Picture for his film Shape of Water, a film in which I thought was great and even better the second time around. Typically Guillermo Del Toro is preferably known for monster films which he loved as a young man, especially the classics. This time around Guillermo Del Toro is heading into a different direction with Nightmare Alley. First being it’s a remake of the 1947 film, another being this isn’t a monster film… Well metaphorically speaking it’s kind of a monster film, but it’s not like that at all. This time around it’s a steadily paced drama, as I appreciate the fact Del Toro went ahead and did something completely different this time around.

I feel Nightmare Alley is potentially a film that can go two ways for the viewer: You either love it or hate it, as I can understand both sides completely. Guillermo Del Toro’s return to the big screen… I’m heavily delighted in his return, Nightmare Alley is a film I can see myself loving more upon rewatches.

I’m extremely surprised that Nightmare Alley was even made due to the era of cinema we’re currently in. I say this because the quality of this film doesn’t feel like it belongs in 2021, it felt more like old school classic cinema, as Guillermo Del Toro nailed it with this one. The story at hand is quite fascinating, I will say it does have it’s detours here and there due to it being a bit slow in pace, however my eyes were pretty glued what was happening during the duration of this film. The story aspect to me which gotten me heavily involved, is the well written character study of Stanton as it aligns perfectly with his involvement with magic/illusions.

Personally I love magic, the way one can accomplish an illusion in which you know is a trick however you’re trying to comprehend how they do it is extremely mind riveting for me as you’re trying to puzzle it all together. A magician never reveals themselves or their secrets in accomplishing the tricks, so they’re pretty much an open book as your trying to figure them out. The opening sequence was simply done and it didn’t reveal much of anything regarding Stanton, the film does a terrific job in making us guess what exactly brought him to do such a horrific thing? Still there’s not much to conclude exactly why Stanton burned that place down along with the body, like a magician you truly do not know them at all as a person, so I liked how this film kept it accurate to one like Stanton.

I would say for a fair amount of the run time till the third act, though we don’t know exactly if Stanton is a good, bad, or misunderstood troubled man, however we did hope he bounced back from being rock bottom from starting up as a Carney. What really changed the tone of this character was when he got really into the scheme of magic, in terms of the power he possessed from it. Like Stanton learns some rare few tricks as more than often he gotten lucky guessing the person at hand correctly, as their reaction of awe, amazement, and wanting to pay Stanton for it really brought Stanton off the rails of insanity. I say that because when magic is not contained, it can be a really dangerous thing. Your building up lies on lies on lies, manipulating human beings to what you say is true, as if it’s not handled correctly and especially appropriately… Consequences shall be occurred at any given moment. This aspect kind of disturbed me, especially what happens to a couple in the third act… It maybe a simply done scene, but the context of the scene can truly terrify one, knowing manipulating one on lies can really cause a lot of harm to people and especially the world.

What is also equally terrifying is learning the world of carneys. Especially when Clem explains how he lures bums off the street, to perform these inhumane acts due to them being on their last leg of life, so they’ll do anything for food and a bed… I love how Willem DaFoe performs while telling this story, he truly elevates your mind into the dark place he wants you to be in. I love how the film looks visually, the set design was pretty authentic and unique, followed by wonderful costume design as well. The cast was great all around Bradley Cooper played a terrific performance along with the many solid supporting performances as well.

The last twenty or thirty minutes sealed the deal for me, I thought it was flat out terrific. Not only by an entertaining and extremely vile standpoint, but also the closing five minutes gave me the biggest smile… It’s a brilliant ending.

Overall, Nightmare Alley was a great film. I highly recommend checking this one out. -Mitch Smietana

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