Nightmare Alley 2021

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Stanton "Stan" Carlisle burns down his midwestern home and takes a job as a carny with a traveling carnival. When the carnival geek becomes sick, carnival owner Clem enlists Stan to help him dispose of him. Stan is disturbed at how any man could sink to the level of performing as a geek, living in a cage in squalor and biting off the heads of live chickens to appease the crowd. Clem explains that he seeks out alcoholic or drug-addicted men with troubled pasts, and lures them in with promises of a "temporary" job and opium-laced alcohol. He then uses their dependence to physically and mentally abuse them until they sink into madness and depravity, thus creating a new geek. He shows Stan where he stores the moonshine he brews to control some of the carnies, but warns him not to mistake it for the wood alcohol he stores nearby.

Stan works with clairvoyant act "Madame Zeena" and her alcoholic husband, Pete. Zeena and Pete use cold reading and an ingenious coded language system to make it appear that she has extraordinary mental powers, which Pete begins teaching to Stan. He and Zeena warn Stan not to ever use these skills to continue leading patrons on when it comes to the dead, what they call a "spook show"; they always inform customers afterward that the show is a deception, otherwise people get hurt. Meanwhile, Stan becomes attracted to fellow performer Molly, and approaches her with an idea for a two-person act away from the carnival.

One night, Stan accidentally gives Pete the wrong bottle and the old man dies from consuming wood alcohol. In the aftermath, Stan swears his love to Molly and reiterates his plan to her. She accepts and they leave the carnival behind. Two years later, Stan has successfully reinvented himself as "The Great Stanton", a psychic act for the wealthy urban elite of Chicago, along with Molly as his assistant, using Zeena and Pete's techniques. During a performance, their act is interrupted by psychologist Dr. Lilith Ritter, who attempts to expose their code system. Stan's cold reading allows him to best Ritter, keeping their act safe. He is later approached by the wealthy Judge Harrington, who employed Ritter to test Stan. He is now convinced of Stan's abilities and offers to pay him handsomely to allow him and his wife to communicate with their dead son. Despite Molly's objections to the "spook show," Stan agrees.

An ambitious young carny with a talent for manipulating people with a few well-chosen words hooks up with a female psychiatrist who is even more dangerous than he is.

Released: 2021-12-02

Runtime: 139 minutes

Genre: Drama, Crime, Mystery, Thriller

Stars: Bradley Cooper, Cate Blanchett, Toni Collette, Willem Dafoe, Richard Jenkins

Director: Guillermo del Toro, Guillermo del Toro, Guillermo del Toro, Tamara Deverell, Brandt Gordon