Sunday, 23 January 2022

‘Nightmare Alley’ dark journey, thrillers on Lifetime



‘NIGHTMARE ALLEY’ RATED R

The definition of a “geek” is thought to apply to one obsessed with digital technology or a socially inept person.

An older version of the term, which plays a part in “Nightmare Alley,” means a carnival or circus performer whose show consists of bizarre or grotesque acts.

The original slang term for geek has a central conceit in William Lindsey Gresham’s 1946 novel “Nightmare Alley,” which was adapted for a film starting Tyrone Power a year later, and now in the hands of director Guillermo del Toro the new version hews to the basic themes of Gresham’s work.

As a film noir and psychological thriller, “Nightmare Alley” is sufficiently disturbing and laden with the grim sense of hopelessness and despair for the Great Depression-era backwater touring carnivals.

Stumbling into the world of carnies and hucksters is Stan Carlisle (Bradley Cooper), a drifter running from his own nightmares who impresses carnival barker Clem Hoatley (William Dafoe) to land a position assisting mentalists.

While fascinated by the geek’s sad misfortune of being an alcoholic who bites the heads off chickens as a sideshow attraction, Stan is tutored by Zeena (Toni Collette) in the art of being a bogus psychic.

Adapting well to the carny lifestyle, Stan woos the mild-mannered, pretty Molly (Rooney Mara), whose talent as the “electric girl” is to dazzle audiences with an ability to withstand a powerful current.

Driven by ambition to strike out on his own, Stan leaves with Molly to take his psychic act to big city nightclub acts where the couple work in tandem to astonish sophisticated audiences.

What would film noir be without a femme fatale? That role certainly does not go to the good-hearted Molly. It falls to the sleek, elegant psychiatrist Dr. Lilith Ritter (Cate Blanchett), who first challenges Stan’s ersatz shtick before being drawn to his charms.

Working with inside knowledge of Lilith’s patients, Stan and the doctor team up to fleece wealthy tycoons like Ezra Grindle (Richard Jenkins) who are gullible victims for sham spiritualism.

Not unexpectedly, with Stan’s broken moral compass, things are bound to go horribly wrong. After all, this is film noir and there will be a reckoning that is ugly.

“Nightmare Alley” features an impressive cast, but it’s definitely a movie outside the mainstream with potentially limited commercial appeal. As an adult-skewing drama, it might get more traction if it ends up on a streaming service.

SUSPENSE MOVIES ON LIFETIME

Following a usually hectic holiday schedule, January is a slow month for new theatrical releases, but the Lifetime cable channel picks up the slack with new suspense-filled original movies.

Marking his directorial debut, Boris Kodjoe directs real-life wife Nicole Ari Parker in the home invasion thriller “Safe Room” that centers on Parker’s recently widowed Lila Jackson and her 14-year-old autistic son Ian (Nik Sanchez).

Since the death of her husband, Lila is grateful for their kind gestures of kind neighbor Neil (Boris Kodjoe). After Ian accidentally witnesses a break-in at the house across the street and records a horrific murder, the Jackson family is in peril.

Lila becomes embroiled in a deadly struggle to protect her son from intruders Dominic (Mackenzie Astin) and Rocco (Drea De Matteo), who will stop at nothing to retrieve the video of the crime.

Hiding and trapped in a makeshift panic room created by her late husband, Lila and Ian must use all of their strength and intelligence to outsmart the intruders to save themselves.

Following a week later, the chills and thrills continue in “Vanished: Searching For My Sister” with the story of a sister who poses as her missing twin, starring Tatyana Ali playing both twins.

Twins Jada and Kayla could not be more opposite. Jada being the mild-mannered sister with an office job, and Kayla the wild child recently divorced from her husband Warren (Justin Bruening).

Kayla asks Jada to watch her daughter while she sets up her new apartment. But after a few days with no word from Kayla, Jada begins to worry and reports her sister missing.

With no leads and the police investigation at a standstill, Jada takes matters into her own hands. She disguises herself as her sister and gets pulled into a world of drugs and deceit in order to learn the shocking truth about what really happened to Kayla.

Early February brings the original thriller “Single Black Female” starring Raven Goodwin as Monica, who is reeling from the death of her beloved father and a difficult breakup.

Monica is ready to move forward with her life as she tries to land the new hosting job for an afternoon talk show. When she hires a new assistant, Simone (Amber Riley), the two quickly become close friends as Simone moves in next door.

Becoming completely immersed in Monica’s life, Simone harbors a dark secret and as time goes on cracks in her sweet exterior begin to appear.

Monica decides to sever ties once and for all with Simone, but Simone has other plans and is determined to take over Monica’s life for good.

Tim Riley writes film and television reviews for Lake County News.

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