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Unlike past del Toro films like The Shape of Water or Pan's Labyrinth, Nightmare Alley doesn't involve fantastical creatures. Instead, Nightmare Alley — based on the novel of the same name by William Lindsay Gresham, which was previously adapted into a 1947 film starring Tyrone Power — is rooted in noir.
Rather than featuring superhuman powers or paranormal phenomena, Nightmare Alley depicts humans pretending to be supernatural. Protagonist Stanton Carlisle (Bradley Cooper) starts out in a spooky, low-rent carnival, where he learns a mind-reading trick that he then tries to use to swindle rich people — but psychiatrist Dr. Lilith Ritter (Cate Blanchett) wants to disprove him.
Kerry Hayes/Searchlight Pictures Bradley Cooper in 'Nightmare Alley'
Rooney Mara also stars as Molly, a young carnival worker who becomes Stanton's girlfriend and assistant. Mara's presence in the cast alongside Blanchett makes this film a Carol reunion on top of everything else.
The trailer opens with Carlisle's arrival to the carnival, as we hear narration from barker (Willem Dafoe) enticing a crowd to "step right up and behold one of the unexplained mysteries of the universe: Is he man or beast?" It's a question that's repeated twice more as we see snippets of Carlisle rise to success, and tangle with Dr. Ritter, who the trailer's description warns "is even more dangerous than he is."
Nightmare Alley hits theaters Dec. 17. Check out the trailer above, and some striking stills below.
Kerry Hayes/Searchlight Pictures
Kerry Hayes/Searchlight Pictures Willem Dafoe runs a disreputable carnival in Guillermo del Toro's 'Nightmare Alley'
Kerry Hayes/Searchlight Pictures Bradley Cooper and Rooney Mara star in Guillermo del Toro's 'Nightmare Alley'
Kerry Hayes/Searchlight Pictures Tarot reader Zeena (Toni Collette) in Guillermo del Toro's 'Nightmare Alley'
Kerry Hayes/Searchlight Pictures Stanton Carlisle (Bradley Cooper) meets Dr. Lilith Ritter (Cate Blanchett) in Guillermo del Toro's 'Nightmare Alley'