Nightmare Alley (2021) Review

Stanton Carlisle is an ambitious man who can easily manipulate people into getting what he wants and becoming a carny will see him attempt to steal talents and create an impressive life for himself, although female psychologist Dr Lilith Ritter is more than a match.


Nightmare Alley was a very mysterious film given that the trailer did not give much away about the plot or how things would go. I have to admit that I massively struggled during the first hour as it felt utterly boring and I just kept hoping that it would get so much better.

That first hour sees Stanton Carlisle turn up at a carnival and manages to get himself a job by being very helpful. He quickly gets to know Clem Hoatley and the other people who are part of the different acts, he is used to catch a man that is shown as being part beast and part human (which in reality is a freak-show geek alcoholic). The harrowing tale of how Clem would find them was quite frankly terrifying and something that builds up a core plot strand within the film.

He is drawn towards Zeena the Seer who has her trick with cards and answering people who are missing someone, as Stanton learns more about this he sees this as his way out and chances of a better life. Offering this to Molly Cahill and getting her away from the life she had known, promising her more money and a life together. Seems like a rather nice fairy tale romance right?

They pretty much steal the act that Zeena and Pete had created but Stanton pushes it too far and when Dr. Lillith-Ritter is in the audience for a few shows everything would take a dramatic turn (and this was also the point where the film actually picked up a little bit). She was trying to work out if the act was real or if they had a system, as a psychiatrist she had a client who wanted to see if he would be able to get a message from his dead son.

It gets more complex as Stanton becomes obsessed with Lilith and Ezra Grindle wants him to be able to contact his dead wife and relive him from guilt that he has been battling with for many years. It actually becomes rather tense as this goes on, wondering if he will eventually get found out and what twists and turns it will all then take.

I actually found it a total shame that the opening hour or so was so boring as the next hour plus was pretty good, should have got to that point quicker really as some of the build up was quite needless in my opinion. As soon as Cate Blanchett showed up it all gained pace and by that point I had forgot she was even in the film. Again when Richard Jenkins appeared for the first time I knew it would get better again, do we have a more underrated supporting actor? He is always fantastic and that was no different in this film. Bradley Cooper was engaging enough in the leading role, but probably needed to be a bit more in that first hour. Willem Dafoe was utterly a scene stealer and I have to admit I was rather sad when he didn’t appear again. I’ve never been a massive fan of Rooney Mara and this even more confirmed it, she is so empty when acting not giving any depth at all.

Considering how much I adored The Shape of Water I always hope that Guillermo del Toro will create something else that I love just as much, that was not the case for Nightmare Alley.

4 thoughts on “Nightmare Alley (2021) Review

  1. I watched the 1947 original the other week and it was absolutely brilliant; so much so that my interest in watching this new version lessened considerably. I’ll catch up with it eventually, but after watching the original noir’s stark black and white beauty, it just looks wrong seeing the characters in such a glossy, colourful film. I’m sure its beautiful to look at, like so much of this director’s work, but I think perhaps he should have been brave enough to shoot it in black and white. Or maybe studios don’t allow that these days.

    Liked by 1 person

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