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Oscar-winning director Guillermo Del Toro’s (The Shape of Water) stylish thriller is a throwback to the days of Alfred Hitchcock.

I left my screening of Nightmare Alley utterly bewildered. Not only was I struggling to process what it was I’d actually just seen, I wasn’t even sure if I’d initially enjoyed the experience.

But a couple of days since watching the movie – it still lives in my mind ‘rent-free’.

I guess that’s what a psychological thriller should do, right? Not to mention one written and directed by a mastermind like Del Toro – the man behind the likes of the acclaimed Pan’s Labyrinth and the original Hellboy movies.

This visually stunning noir flick opens with the charismatic, but down-on-his-luck Stanton Carlisle (Oscar-nominee Bradley Cooper) fleeing a crime scene – eventually ending up at a travelling carnival. Upon agreeing to work there, Stan discovers he has a natural flair for fraudulent mentalism.

After falling in love with fellow entertainer Molly (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’s Rooney Mara), the pair realise they make quite the stage duo and before long they’re ‘grifting’ the wealthy elite of 1940s New York. But soon Stan potentially bites off more than he can chew when plotting to con an extremely dangerous tycoon (Jack Reacher’s Richard Jenkins) with the aid of a mysterious psychiatrist (Oscar-winner Cate Blanchett).

Cooper and Blanchett are as excellent as always. The actress in particular stood out for me, giving a haunting performance that steals whatever scene she’s in.

The set designs are beautiful – whether it be the carnival setting or the big city – with the level of detail that went into the filmmaking truly phenomenal.

I'll be honest, my initial hesitations as to whether or not I enjoyed this film came purely from not fully understanding the plot. After all, nobody likes to feel stupid.

Upon reflection, I actually admire the decision for Del Toro to not ‘spoon-feed’ the audience, with certain details being left to our own interpretation. I dare say loose ends would be tied if I were to watch Nightmare Alley for a second time – and it’s this kind of film that maybe needs a second viewing. Even though for that very divisive reason it has probably missed out prominently being in the mix during awards season.

Either way, it’s no accident that this movie is cemented firmly in my mind – which is most definitely what the filmmaker would have wanted. Even now, I'm analysing every little detail. After my recent Marvel binge, perhaps I was due a ‘thinker’ like this.

It took me down a nightmarish thought-provoking alley – but on reflection it was just what was required.

Well played Del Toro sir, well played.

Rating: 4/5

Mikey Clarke

Showcase Cinema De Lux Peterborough, Out Now

Cast: Bradley Cooper, Cate Blanchett, Toni Collette, Willem Dafoe, Rooney Mara, Richard Jenkins, Ron Perlman, Mary Steenburgen, David Strathairn, Holt McCallany and Tim Blake Nelson

Running Time: 2 Hr 30 Mins

Director: Guillermo Del Toro

Go to for all the latest film information & showtimes at Peterborough’s Showcase Cinema De Lux

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