“Nightmare Alley” Early Reactions: Guillermo del Toro’s Luminously Dark Noir Shines

The buzz is building for Guillermo del Toro’s Nightmare Alley, the visionary director’s plunge into a world that seems tailor-made for his particular skill set. Set in a mid-20th-century second-rate carnival filled with schemers, dreamers, hustlers, weirdos, and femme Fatales, Del Toro gets to play carnival barker (that role in the movie actually belongs to Willem Dafoe), taking us on a tour of the lost souls plying their various trades in this shadowy world. Adapted from William Lindsay Gresham’s novel of the same name, Nightmare Alley is entered on Stan Carlisle (Bradley Cooper), a gifted carny who can manipulate people with nothing more than a few perfectly chosen words. Carlisle meets his match in Dr. Lillith Ritter (Cate Blanchett), a psychiatrist who possibly surpasses his gift for manipulation. These two will make for a sinister pair.

So how’s the film being received? Before we turn to the critics, why don’t hear from one of Del Toro’s contemporaries, writer/director Edgar Wright, who just recently released his own twisted tale of madness with Last Night in Soho: 

Del Toro is one of the best in the business at world-building, and nobody has more genuine love for the weirdos and wicked. Sure, Del Toro delights in the icky, sticky business of creating these worlds and the horrors they contain, but he’s equally drawn to the humanity he finds there. From his Oscar-winning turn with Shape of Water to his masterpiece, Pan’s Labyrinth, Del Toro is a director who loves his characters, the more bizarre the better, and this affection crosses across all his work, regardless of the genre. Yet unlike many of his previous films, Nightmare Alley boasts no supernatural elements. It’s a pure pulp movie. The most terrifying things here are conjured and created by human beings—and we know how scary they can be.

Joining Cooper and Blanchett are a slew of great performers—Rooney Mara, Willem Dafoe, Mary Steenburgen, Richard Jenkins, Toni Collette, Ron Perlman, and David Strathairn to name a few.

Check out the early reactions below. Nightmare Alley hits theaters on December 17.

Featured image: (From L-R): Bradley Cooper, Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara in the film NIGHTMARE ALLEY. Photo by Kerry Hayes. © 2021 20th Century Studios All Rights Reserved


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The Credits is an online magazine that tells the story behind the story to celebrate our large and diverse creative community. Focusing on profiles of below-the-line filmmakers, The Credits celebrates the often uncelebrated individuals who are indispensable to the films and TV shows we love.