When it comes to Guillermo del Toro’s upcoming psychological thriller Nightmare Alley, the Oscar-winning filmmaker wants to be completely transparent with his audience: everything is not what it seems, and the movie is not what people may make it out to be.
Deception is instrumental to Nightmare Alley, and the ominous title casts itself out as a warning. Del Toro has a lot of experience working ghosts, ghouls, and other twisted beings into his films, which could lead eager moviegoers to expect oddities and otherworldly beings. Nightmare Alley is not to be confused with past films such as The Shape of Water, and del Toro’s next film flirts with classic noir film themes.
Del Toro told Vanity Fair that people expect horror out of his thrillers, using Crimson Peak as a prime example, noting that this gothic romance was perceived as a horror movie by those who wanted to see supernatural aspects when in reality, there was none to be found. Vanity Fair made sure to gives us a lot of great images from the upcoming film, and we confirm the lack of ghosts or fish-men.
Nightmare Alley stars Bradley Cooper as Shanton Carlisle, a former carnival worker who reaches stardom as a big-city nightclub performer. He poses as a powerful mind reader after practicing cold-read tricks that he took away from his carnival days, drawing in high-profile, millionaire clients, a totally different take from his time lending his voice to Marvel Studios as Rocket Raccoon. Opposite of Cooper is Cate Blanchett, who has landed the role of Dr. Lilith Ritter, a psychiatrist that can see straight through Carlisle’s performances and sets out to expose him for who he is. During her pursuit to dismantle Carlisle, she becomes entangled in the schemes at hand.
Del Toro was adamant about avoiding cliches through Nightmare Alley and uses the carnival as a metaphor for the current state of the world. He believes that “everyone’s there to swindle everyone,” and that the statement can be an allusion to the ecosystems that make up cities. He says he won’t use noir tropes that have been so heavily associated with the genre for so long: no detectives walking through darkened streets, no fedoras to be tipped, no voiceovers to catch audiences up with the pace of the plot, and no Venetian binds casting slatted streetlights on half-lit faces.
Nightmare Alley also anticipates challenging the stereotype of the “femme fatale” and flips the focus of the film onto a “homme fatale” for a change. Del Toro wants to use a completely different twist on the genre, and so stacks up three strong female characters instead of singling out one main female lead.
This isn’t the first time a filmmaker has tackled this story. Nightmare Alley is based on a novel of the same name published in 1946 by William Lindsay Gresham. In 1947 Edmund Goulding became the first to adapt the story in a fairly gritty interpretation, with Tyrone Power in Cooper’s current role and Helen Walker preceding Blanchett as Dr. Little.
Del Toro sounds incredibly confident that he has a trick or two ready to twist expectations and promises that his upcoming film will stand out from his previous work. Nightmare Alley arrives in theaters on December 17, 2021.