Yesterday we saw the first look for Guillermo Del Toro’s new film, Nightmare Alley, and now we have a teaser by which to get a taste of Del Toro’s latest dark fantasia. It looks creepy all right! Old timey carnivals are always creepy, that’s a given. The juxtaposition of Willem Dafoe’s carnival barker routine and shots of Bradley Cooper running around, sitting in fire, smearing blood, and more, is a little on the nose—man was the greatest monster all along!—but it works. Tone, atmosphere, mise en scene, these are never issues with Del Toro. The teaser also highlights that ludicrous cast, with Cooper, Cate Blanchett, and Toni Collette most frequently featured, followed by Rooney Mara and Dafoe and previous Del Toro collaborators like Ron Perlman and Richard Jenkins. This is a good looking movie, with a good looking cast.
Unless and until the film contradicts me, I choose to believe Nightmare Alley and The Shape of Water exist in the same universe. I know Del Toro said nothing supernatural is in this movie, but Alley has the same red-green color coding as Water. I’m trying to remember if Crimson Peak fits into this, too. There was definitely red in that movie, but I remember a lot of blue and yellow, not green. Anyway, I am here for Guillermo Del Toro’s carnival cinematic universe. You know what this also reminds me of? The Prestige. The period setting, the world of carnivals and illusionists, a shady guy who, I assume, mentally and/or emotionally tortures at least one woman who loves him—all that’s missing is a legendary rockstar starring as a legendary scientist. Though Nightmare Alley probably doesn’t need rockstars, it’s a con man story. People LOVE con man stories because it’s impossible to be the dupe when you’re watching the film-flam from the audience. Movies let us be in on the con.
They’re setting up Nightmare Alley for a major awards push and given all the talent involved and the level of craft Del Toro and his team consistently bring, it’s a given this will be a contender, in the technical categories at least. But I’m most looking forward to Bradley Cooper playing an asshole—he excels at it, Sack Lodge is one of the great comedy assholes of all time—in the midst of one of Del Toro’s twisted jewel box worlds. Let’s assume Alley lives up to the hype, and Cooper contends for Best Actor. Adam Driver is in that race, so are Benedict Cumberbatch and Will Smith. Denzel Washington has yet to enter the lists, but he’s coming with The Tragedy of Macbeth, and though reviews for Cyrano are mixed, praise for Peter Dinklage is not. I wouldn’t count out Joaquin Phoenix, either, and then there is character actor turned leading man Clifton Collins, Jr. as the dark horse. When was the last time Best Actor was this competitive?