Film Reviews

Nightmare Alley (2021)

It’s not often that movies are actually filmed in and take place primarily underwater but if done right, it feels like the perfect angle for a horror movie.

Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury’s The Deep House gives you just enough time to take in one big breath before diving head first into the cold waters of a French man made lake for the rest of its runtime.

In this particular lake is an abandoned mansion that conjures a young haunted travel vlogging couple, Ben and Tina played by James Jagger and Camille Rowe, to monetarily explore its eerie presence.

Expecting to find only the large structure left standing on the lake floor, what they find inside is much more than expected and with absolutely no means of escape. This mansion is enormous and that’s clear when the couple descend upon it and swim around its exteriors but once inside the completely boarded up place, the many creepy rooms still mostly preserved in completely surrounding watery darkness makes you feel uncomfortably claustrophobic.

The dark and sinister history of the Montegnac Mansion is awakened by the arrival of its latest guests and so this aquatic exploration quickly turns into a horrifying race against time and the terrors that still lurk within this sunken purgatory. Sanity levels deplete even faster than the supplied oxygen tanks do and it fully illustrates wave after wave of dreadful and hopeless panic.

Bustillo and Maury have collaborated on a handful of horror movies since the early 2000s. From their first and still best work on the 2007 film Inside, each movie sadly seemed to get worse from there, especially their 2017 Leatherface film. This movie is easily their 2nd best movie so far. The Deep House is a rather straightforward horror movie but with technical design that is just exceptionally incomparable to any other horror movie out there.

Check it out on Hulu or Paramount Plus.

“Is he a man or beast”…..or is he geek?

Nightmare Alley is holy mesmerizing shit!!! Its addictive, deceptive neo-noir for its entire 2 hour 30 minute runtime and it left me wanting MORE. An hour long Carny tale that ventures into the big city. And it cynically engulfs you with its hypnotic 1940s milieu. It’s a classic rise and fall thriller drenched in heavy repressed themes of drug and alcohol addiction that plagued the US during that time period. This sort of thriller is one of my filmic languages. I got flashbacks of A Face in the Crowd.

Del Toro acting alumni are back and fill the screen with filthy hardened life. Rooney Mara, Ron Perlman, Cate Blanchett, Toni Collette, Willem Dafoe, Richard Jenkins, and of course Stanton Carlisle himself, Bradley Cooper.

Bradley Cooper pulls off the finest performance of his unfinished career as Stanton Carlisle, a mysterious drifter turned curious carny turned mentalist con-man turned forgotten geek. This character is far too reserved at first but it becomes clear exactly how attentively deceptive this man really is. Even though it was shown to us right from the beginning. When Cooper’s character opens up, his performance shines brightest.

The direction and cinematography may at times feel a bit too flashy or modern to pull off a neo-noir as great as this one but Guillermo del Toro and DOP Dan Laustsen pull it off once again. I’m feeling this tricky little hypnotic neo-noir thriller might end up as one of my favorite del Toro films.

I only have 2 regrets. First is not seeing the film in theaters back in December during a surprisingly stacked month or theatrical releases. It is most definitely worthy of the big screen! And second is having not seen the 1947 version before. I’m sure it’s right up my alley as well. I imagine the novel is worth a read!

I’d like to read that little book of mentalism and pull some tricks on the Academy voters because it should be in plenty of nomination conversations. 

How could this movie NOT be up for any Oscars come March?!

Update as of 2/8/22

Nightmare Alley has received 4 Oscar nominations for the 94th Annual Academy Awards. Best Picture, Cinematograhy, Production Design and Costume Design. All extremely worthy nominations. But none for acting recognition unfortunately, leaving one of Bradley Cooper’s greatest performances high and dry. 2021 was a very stacked year for great leading actor performances.

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