Nightmare Alley

Nightmare Alley ★★★½

Guillermo Del Toro has long been fascinated with peeling back the curtain on those marked and sold as ‘freaks’, and maybe that’s why I gelled with the hour-long carnival portion of Nightmare Alley the most. It’s a slow section — essential setup slipped into inessential meandering — but also the one where Del Toro’s passion and style shines through the strongest. Meticulous production gives real tactility to the rain-soaked tents and peeling structures, and Dan Laustsen’s floaty, roving camerawork works a treat when atmosphere and detail share equal footing with story. That said, the digital polish smooths out some of the edge when Del Toro and Kim Morgan’s script shifts to more classically noir, plot-driven content in the remaining eighty minutes. It’s still visually and sonically immaculate (those first few shots of Cate Blanchett, whew… actually, any shot with Cate Blanchett), but strangely distanced, the bloated runtime stretching suspense thin and digital slickness painting over grit, despite some cruel irony and appropriately gruesome violence in the home stretch. It’s all lavishly, lovingly made, as a Del Toro creation always is — just missing the extra spark and substance that would get me properly invested. 7/10 

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