It’s been four years since Guillermo Del Toro’s last directorial feature, the Oscar-winning The Shape Of Water, which means it’s been four years since we’ve gotten to bask in the director’s love of moody lighting, bombastic recitations, and some of the most striking faces working in the modern film industry. Thank goodness, then, for the arrival of the first teaser for Del Toro’s Nightmare Alley remake, which sees Bradley Cooper bounce back and forth between the high life and the gutter, all accompanied by Willem Dafoe, in full carnival barker mode, demanding you answer: Is he a beast, or a man?
Based on William Lindsay Gresham’s 1946 novel (adapted with Tyrone Power and Joan Blondell by director Edmund Goulding just a year later), Nightmare Alley tells the story of Cooper’s Stanton Carlisle, a con-man with good taste in marks and bad taste in women. (At least, in the sense of running into the hands of of Cate Blanchett as Dr. Lilith Ritter, an even more manipulative presence than the veteran carny.) The teaser for Del Toro’s version of this story goes light on plot but heavy on feeling, whether that’s from the unnerving power of Blanchett’s watchful eyes, Rooney Mara jolting in an electric chair, or the sight of Cooper resigning himself to the realities of a burning building. Meanwhile, we get glimpses of the rest of the Del Toro ensemble new and old, including Richard Jenkins, Toni Collette, David Straitharn, and, of course, Ron Perlman.
Nightmare Alley was written by Del Toro, who worked on the screenplay with Kim Morgan. The film is being distributed by Searchlight—making it one of the few “carny hypnotist sex dramas” ever to be published by the Walt Disney Corporation, as far as we’re aware—and is set to arrive in theaters on December 17, 2021.