Guillermo del Toro’s remake of 1947 Tyrone Power film aims to provide some shocking chills and perversity to dark noir but mainly comes up freakily empty.
After the big splash of the visionary director’s The Shape of Water, Nightmare Alley embraces its lurid madness most in strained, languid passages. Considering how the monsters are conjured here in a prestige production that captures a gritty Depression-era carnival milieu as well as the lushness of Art Deco.
This time, Stanton ‘Stan’ Carlisle is portrayed by Bradley Cooper (A Star is Born) with a certain Dr. Indiana Jones mien as colorful folks like Zeena (Toni Collette) and dipsomaniac magician husband Pete (David Strathairm) are introduced as their act doesn’t include ‘spook shows.’ There’s also the conductive act of innocent Molly (Rooney Mara) who’ll be a part of a new fortune-reading routine of the mysterious loner seen early on walking away from a house ablaze before finding the ‘carny’ world.
The second portion of the reimagined narrative (from the 1946 novel by William Lindsey Gresham) includes Cate Blanchette’s tantalizing femme fatale of a therapist Dr Lilith Ritter, who provides Stan will valuable information to profit off of wealthy clients. But she warns him of one Ezra Grindle (Richard Jenkins), also of The Shape of Water with a wild wig, who has strong backing from (Holt McCallany) as the client needs to reach long ago passed loved one.
From initial intrigue, like characters that also include William Defoe’s candid barker Clem Hoatley and stylish sets, the luster wears on in large part because the plot has little to cultivate when it comes to different monsters at play around the gullible as when it comes to different monsters at play around the gullible as the editing is more slack that what’s often the norm for a visionary director.
It would have been nice to have more of Collette and Dafoe, and Mara comes across with more empathy than nearly all of her counterparts as the script hardly double-downs on its characters. You feel Molly is in a compromised state as a rather sinister plan is set in motion. Cooper and Blanchett might have convincing unforgivable qualities but there’s nothing much to them besides the natty, exploitative surface.
Plenty of aural and visual flourishes try to pass for what appears to be hopelessly squandered from an ominous score to the lighting which at last takes Alley to a notably visceral nightmarish conclusion. Not compensating much for being drenched in rain (before it snows) and bogus readings.