Guillermo del Toro Wants You to Take a Walk Down Nightmare Alley

Guillermo del Toro Wants You to Take a Walk Down Nightmare Alley
Image: Searchlight Pictures

The new trailer for Guillermo del Toro’s next film has arrived, and boy… Nightmare Alley looks good. It also has a hell of a cast, but there’s so much going on it’s difficult to parse what’s happening in the final trailer for the film other than it’s set in the first half of the 20th century, Bradley Cooper appears to play someone with real psychic powers and an unfortunate mustache, and there’s an increasing amount of del Toro-style suspense and dread. Still want to check out the trailer?

Of course you do. But here’s the official synopsis for the film to help make sense of what’s happening: “When charismatic but down-on-his-luck Stanton Carlisle (Bradley Cooper) endears himself to clairvoyant Zeena (Toni Collette) and her has-been mentalist husband Pete (David Strathairn) at a travelling carnival, he crafts a golden ticket to success, using this newly acquired knowledge to grift the wealthy elite of 1940s New York society. With the virtuous Molly (Rooney Mara) loyally by his side, Stanton plots to con a dangerous tycoon (Richard Jenkins) with the aid of a mysterious psychiatrist (Cate Blanchett) who might be his most formidable opponent yet.”

Despite the subject material and the director, apparently, it’s a straightforward noir movie. “This has no supernatural element,” del Toro previously told Vanity Fair. “It’s based completely in a reality world. There is nothing fantastic. It’s a very different movie from my usual, but yes, the title and my name would create that [impression].” But then he also said, “I wanted to do the universe of the novel, which is a little gritty, but also strangely magical. It has a very strange, mystical allure — and mythical.”

There’s no reason for him to lie about it being “normal,” but it’s really hard to imagine the man who directed The Shape of Water, Pan’s Labyrinth, Crimson Peak, and Pacific Rim would make a film about clairvoyants and mentalists where their powers don’t come into play in some fashion. He certainly could, of course, but it feels more likely to me he’s hiding the fantastical elements of the film from the audience. I suppose I could read the 1946 novel by William Lindsay Gresham that serves as the film’s source material to find out, but I don’t see that happening.

Nightmare Alley premieres in theatres on January 20, 2022.