It’s often said that “they don’t make films like this anymore” and mostly it’s true but thankfully on occasions a film comes along that restores your faith in cinema and Nightmare Alley is one such film.

Based on an 1946 American noir psychological thriller novel of the same name by William Lindsay Gresham Nightmare Alley has been brought to the screen once before in 1947. Now in 2022 director Guillermo del Toro brings to the screen a lavish and hugely entertaining film that harks back to the glory days of Hollywood.

Set in the late 30’s early 40’s an excellent Bradley Cooper, looking every bit like a Hollywood star from the golden age of cinema past, plays Stanton Carlisle who after leaving a burning building, that he’s set on fire along with, we presume, its occupant joins a traveling circus run by Clem Hoatley (Willem Dafoe).

Hoatley’s circus includes various “freak shows” amongst them is Molly Cahill (Rooney Mara) a young women who passes large electrical charges through her body, Bruno the strongman (Ron Perlman) and Pete (David Strathairn) and Zeena the Seer (Toni Collette) a pair of con artists who, through various well-rehearsed scams, convince people that they can contact their nearest and dearest deceased relatives. Seeing an opportunity to make some money Stanton Carlisle convinces Pete to take him under his wing and Pete teaches him how carry out his act.

Nightmare Alley plays very much like a film in two acts. In the second act Stanton, along with his new found knowledge and Molly Cahill, the electric lady, leave the circus and heads to New York.

The story moves on a couple of years and Molly and Stanton are now a successful double act. It’s at one of their shows where Stanton meets Dr Lilith Ritter (Cate Blanchett), a female psychiatrist who’s as unscrupulous and dishonest as Stanton is. Together the pair set up a scam whereby she passes information that she’s gleamed from rich clients during psychiatrist sessions, this information allows Stanton to convince his clients, for large amounts of money, that he can see into their very souls.

Nightmare Alley is a terrific story and to tell any more of the plot would spoil any surprises, and there are a few.

Picking out any one individual for praise seems unfair as the cast to a person are just wonderful, you could pick any member of the cast and an Oscar nomination wouldn’t be any less than they deserve. Special praise should go to Shane Vieau’s set decoration as every single scene just oozes 30’s art deco, it’s hard to see anything other than a well-deserved Oscar going Vieau’s way when they are handed out in March.

Del Toro’s, who has to be one of the most talented directors working in Hollywood at the moment, film is a joy from start to finish. It’s not often that I hand out 5 star reviews but then again it’s not often that a film as good as Nightmare Alley comes along.

In a cinema landscape filled with superheroes and sequels Nightmare Alley just proves that “they still make films like they used to”. Nightmare Alley is cinema at its glorious best. Don’t miss.


Nightmare Alley

Director: Guillermo del Toro
Cast: Bradley Cooper, Cate Blanchett, Toni Collette, Willem Dafoe, Richard Jenkins, Rooney Mara, Ron Perlman, David Strathairn

UK Release: Cinemas 21st January 2022
US Release: Cinemas 17th December 2021