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Quick Review - Searchlight's Nightmare Alley

Man or beast.

Nightmare Alley is a 2021 neo-noir psychological crime thriller film directed by Guillermo del Toro, written by Guillermo del Toro and Kim Morgan, produced by TSG Entertainment and Double Dare You Productions, and distributed by Searchlight Pictures. It is based off of William Lindsay Gresham's 1946 novel, Nightmare Alley. The film stars Bradley Cooper and Cate Blanchett. It was nominated for Best Picture, Best Production Design, Best Cinematography, and Best Costume Design, but did not win any of those. This is the second adaptation of Nightmare Alley. It was preceded by Nightmare Alley.

"It ain't hope if it's a lie, Stan." - Pete


After being at a carnival for a few months, con man Stanton Carlisle takes his act to the next level. As he uses tricks to outsmart people into giving him money, he encounters psychologist Lilith Ritter, a dangerous woman that spells out disaster for Stan and everything he holds dear.

My Favorite Part of Nightmare Alley

I really dug the second half of this movie. There's a time jump about an hour into the movie, and I think that there is a vast improvement in quality after the time jump. There's a clear narrative. The character motivations and goals become clearer. There's tension. The performances improved. It felt like I was watching two different movies. The second half of this film is just lightyears better than the first half. And I really did like the second half. It felt like a genuinely great psychological crime film with elements of film noir.

My Least Favorite Part of Nightmare Alley

Part of the reason I liked the second half so much is because the first half is pretty rough. The first hour and fifteen minutes is spent in this carnival. The carnival is this pretty disgusting place that makes you feel so uncomfortable and disturbed. Guillermo del Toro did a good job with that, but the plot doesn't feel like it's moving at the carnival. So, for the first half of the movie, you're just stuck in this nasty place where the story and characters aren't really doing anything. It's all setup that pays off nicely in the second half, but it's a long road to get to the second half of this movie.

Why Nightmare Alley is Kind of a Mixed Bag But Also Kind of Works

Once again, the first half is bad and the second half is great. The second half of a film is more important, because it wraps everything up and has to provide a satisfying conclusion for the audience. Nightmare Alley seems to have an explosive climax. What starts to happen is very intense and unsettling. The climax reaches peak tension. It seems like there's about to be a big plot twist. And then they reveal who the villain is...which you kind of already knew. They played this villain reveal like a big twist, but it was obvious from the beginning that this character was the villain. If you've seen the movie, you know what I'm talking about.

Final Thoughts and Score

The second half of the film is great for the most part, and even the ending doesn't entirely ruin the film. The first half is a slog, but if you can get through it, the second half is a really great thriller.

I will go Savory here. Age range is 14+.


Sweet (Great) Savory (Good)

Sour (Bad)

Moldy (Terrible)

"Nightmare Alley"

Fun Factor: 7/10

Acting: 8.5/10

Story: 7.5/10

Characters: 7.5/10

Quality: 7.5/10

Directed by Guillermo del Toro

Rated R for bloody violence, frightening images, disturbing themes, suggestive content, thematic elements

Released on December 17, 2021

2 hours and 30 minutes

Bradley Cooper as Stanton Carlisle

Cate Blanchett as Lilith Ritter

Rooney Mara as Molly Cahill

Toni Collette as Zeena Krumbein

Willem Dafoe as Clem Hoatley

Richard Jenkins as Ezra Grindle

Ron Perlman as Bruno


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