A three-part review.

I didn’t have the same adverse reaction to the marketing of NIGHTMARE ALLEY that Eli did in his review. And that’s because I DON’T watch any trailers before seeing a movie. So I went into NIGHTMARE ALLEY only knowing the Rotten Tomato score, who the filmmaker and actors are, and that it was going to last for a long time. 

Since NIGHTMARE ALLEY plays out episodically throughout its two-and-a-half-hour runtime, I wanted to separate my review into three parts.


The theme of the first hour in NIGHTMARE ALLEY is – “When a man believes his own lies, he believes it’s all true, and people get hurt.” That theme is not entirely revealed until going full circle in Part III; however, it’s a perfect setup for the following film. 

Bradley Cooper plays Stanton Carlisle. A quiet man that audiences don’t know much about, outside of the fact he needs a fresh start. Over the first act, we see Stanton become mentored and taught how to work in the Carny. That setup has this ominous tone that feels like a gothic episode of TALES FROM THE CRYPT. The slow burn is expertly built upon as everything that director Guillermo del Toro shows will come back to have emotional meaning later in the film. 

On top of the tone in PART I, there’s a bit more to like. Guillermo del Toro loves to make monster love stories (THE SHAPE OF WATER). The carny setup allows him to peel back each layer of character and “spook,” showcasing tormented souls. I’d love to see an entire movie that takes place in a carnival by him in the future. 


Just as I was falling in love with the carny setting of NIGHTMARE ALLEY, audiences are quickly removed and plopped into a very different movie. Part II is about two main themes:

  1. “People are desperate to tell you who they are. They are desperate to be seen.”
  2. “Find out what people love and sell it back to them.”

Stanton Carlisle has to figure out how to operate in a new world that includes Cate Blanchett playing a perfect noir female lead as Dr. Lilith Ritter. The world-building here is the stuff audiences have seen countless times before in noir classics that create several moments where the pacing fumbles. 


If audiences haven’t watched the trailer for NIGHTMARE ALLEY, there’s no way to predict where it heads next. A character states, “sometimes you don’t see the line until you cross it.” Guillermo del Toro doesn’t just cross that line with his finale; he leaps over it.

The star of the last part is always brilliant, Richard Jenkins as Ezra Grindle. While Bradley Cooper might be in every frame, Jenkins minimal screentime left a lasting impression that allows the finale to work splendidly. I’d go into more here, but I’m not going to spoil this ride for audiences.


Audiences have seen better Guillermo del Toro (PAN’S LABYRINTH and THE SHAPE OF WATER), but I urge them to attend his most recent spook show, NIGHTMARE ALLEY. It’s a challengingly grotesque film that won’t be an audience favorite. Yet, it has relevant themes and is told through the eyes of one of the greatest living directors in cinema. 

Tl;dr: It has been three days since seeing NIGHTMARE ALLEY, and the imagery and performances can’t be washed from my head (not even for 10 cents).

NIGHTMARE ALLEY is available in theatres. 

Aaron "Dobler" Goldstein

Aaron Goldstein is a Product Manager by day, ludicrous speed content consumer by night. He’s a LA Film School Alumni and TV Academy / Producers Guild of America member. Aaron is a proud stepparent and dad joke enthusiast.

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