Whether science fiction, horror, or fairy tales, the movies of director Guillermo del Toro have earned a reputation for visual splendor. His newest “Nightmare Alley,” a new adaptation of the 1946 William Lindsay Gresham novel of the same name, is perhaps the greatest showcase of his world-building talents so far – as attested to by in the above video by actress Toni Collette, who’s featured in the film as a carnival clairvoyant named Madame Zeena.
“Every frame blows my mind,” says Collette. “It’s so exquisite and rich and so saturated. And yet so real.”
In addition to del Toro, much of the credit for that belongs to Oscar-nominated director of photography Dan Laustsen. The Danish cinematographer first worked with del Toro on the Mexican director’s debut American film “Mimic (1997) and the two have since collaborated on “Crimson Peak,” “The Shape of Water,” and now this moody noir.
“Guillermo and my history is pretty long,” says Laustsen. “We have the same opinion about lighting and the way to do it.” The use of shadow in particularly striking, especially on the face of the conflicted con man Stan (Bradley Cooper), who we first meet as he is torching his family’s home. He is soon adopted into a traveling carnival, in part by Collette’s character.
“Dan and I had talked about very period lighting, keeping Stan in the shadows,” del Toro says in the video. “Everything (was to) be carefully presented to make him look as powerful as a presence would in classic cinema.”
Laustsen adds, “His character is very dark and we play around with that in the lighting. Deep black shadows. One side of his face is in the light and he’s always going towards the darkness.”
In the video, del Toro even offers a clue to his motivation for releasing the whole film, which also stars Cate Blanchett, Rooney Mara, and Richard Jenkins, in a black-and-white version, which opened in select Los Angeles theaters last week. Del Toro and Laustsen shared their thoughts on this version with TheWrap: “I kept saying, ‘Oh, my God, I wish I could do both releases,’” the director raved.
For more on the look of “Nightmare Alley,” including shots of the massive “rain spreaders” that provided a gloomy, drenched vibe for the film’s carnival scenes, check out the full video, above.