The first reactions to Searchlight Pictures’ “Nightmare Alley” are thundering in following the film’s global premiere in New York City on Wednesday evening. Film critics and entertainment writers who attended the high-profile screening took to social media, praising Guillermo del Toro’s follow-up to his 2017 best picture winner “The Shape of Water.”
Based on William Lindsay Gresham’s 1946 novel of the same name, “Nightmare Alley” stars Bradley Cooper as Stan Carlisle, an ambitious carnival entertainer with a knack for manipulating people with a few select phrases. Carlisle’s abilities and showmanship launch him into the upper classes of society, where he encounters Cate Blanchett’s Dr. Lilith Ritter, a suspect and highly dangerous psychiatrist.
“Nightmare Alley” sports a star-studded cast, including Willem Dafoe, Toni Collette, Richard Jenkins, Rooney Mara, Holt McCallany, Tim Blake Nelson, Mary Steenburgen, David Strathairn, Clifton Collins Jr. and frequent del Toro collaborator Ron Perlman. The film is set to hit theaters on Dec. 17.
Variety’s own executive editor Ramin Setoodeh’s immediate reaction featured high praise for Cooper’s lead performance, declaring a belief that the actor will earn a fifth Oscar nomination for his performance.
Bradley Cooper will likely earn his fifth Oscar nomination for acting for #NightmareAlley.
— Ramin Setoodeh (@RaminSetoodeh) December 2, 2021
Variety awards editor Clayton Davis also praised Cooper, along with del Toro’s direction. He also declared that the year’s production design Oscar race essentially has a bow on it at this point. Read his complete initial takeaways here.
There are two movies within #NightmareAlley. One makes Bradley Cooper a long overdue Oscar winner. The other puts another statue on the shelf of visionary director Guillermo del Toro. Could be one, none or neither for the Academy. At minimum, production design race ended tonight. pic.twitter.com/Eb0O7tKnM4
— Clayton Davis (@ByClaytonDavis) December 2, 2021
Variety senior artisans editor Jazz Tangcay called the movie “all around brilliance.”
Nightmare Alley is all round brilliance. guillermo del toro has made an unbelievably beautiful and incredible film. The production design is breathtaking. The performances are a spectacle with Bradley Cooper delivering one of the best of the year.
— Jazz Tangcay (@jazzt) December 2, 2021
Film critic Robert Daniels was much less favorable, calling the look of the film “so murky” that he had trouble making out actors’ faces.
I was very unimpressed with NIGHTMARE ALLEY. I don’t think so murky I can’t see actors’ faces — there’s a moment where I had to squint to see a black tap dancer — is noir. Dark shows, yes. Indistinguishable, no. It was too long, and Bradley Cooper didn’t do anything for me. pic.twitter.com/Ivg0QxSdvD
— Robert Daniels (@812filmreviews) December 2, 2021
Fandango’s Erik Davis highlighted the scenes between Cooper and Blanchett as particularly impressive.
Guillermo del Toro’s #NightmareAlley is haunting & seductive in the way it draws you into its story about a man lost in his own long con. Steadily unsettling & wildly gripping by the end – the scenes between Bradley Cooper & Cate Blanchett are fantastic. Deliciously old fashioned pic.twitter.com/pcyYSGZX3U
— Erik Davis (@ErikDavis) December 2, 2021
Yahoo Entertainment correspondent Kevin Polowy also extended praise to Blanchett, stating that the actress “steals it as always.”
#NightmareAlley is nice and dark and moody and twisty and Bradley Cooper is really good as a hustler who kisses half the cast while Cate Blanchett steals it as always but the real MVPs are Buffalo’s classic architecture, the steady snowfall, and its stunning production design.
— Kevin Polowy (@djkevlar) December 2, 2021
See more reactions below:
Immaculately constructed, Searchlight has a ★★★★★ across-the-board #Oscars contender in #NightmareAlley, @RealGDT has done it again with Bradley Cooper’s career-best performance, stellar cinematography & flawless editing, last awards film in & it’s a massive, MASSIVE winner pic.twitter.com/HvULKz0hN8
— EW (@ErickWeber) December 2, 2021
Appropriate that Cate Blanchett looms over this crowd because she looms large in NIGHTMARE ALLEY itself, treating the film’s eye popping production design like it was all custom made for her femme fatale to slink on. She’ll slink on couches, on desks, on walls, on B Coop, on air
— Kyle Buchanan (@kylebuchanan) December 2, 2021
NIGHTMARE ALLEY rules. A film full of dark and stormy nights, freak shows, con artists, and Cate Blanchett seductively blowing cigarette smoke. Style out the wazoo here.
— Chris Evangelista (@cevangelista413) December 2, 2021
Not to be a geek about it, but I was certainly entranced by Nightmare Alley. Easy to grow drunk on the lush period aesthetic alone and not a weak link to be found in the entire ensemble. The first chunk of the story was particularly in tents.
I said "in tents."
— Will Goss (@williambgoss) December 2, 2021
NIGHTMARE ALLEY: What starts off as a confounding, skips-several-beats thing turns into Del Toro’s most beguiling English-language film. The trick: When Cate Blanchett enters the picture. (Warning: My TIFF crowd only politely applauded, and this hometown crowd usually goes nuts.)
— Barry Hertz (@HertzBarry) December 2, 2021
#NightmareAlley is stunning. A beguiling slow burn that lands a breathtaking sucker punch of a third act. The ensemble cast turn in awards worthy powerhouse performances. The flawless cinematography and del Toro’s direction combined delivery up a rich and intoxicating treasure. pic.twitter.com/0RTzNWBBRi
— Simon Thompson (@ShowbizSimon) December 2, 2021