REVIEW – “Beau is Afraid”

Where do you even begin when you’re trying to talk about Beau is Afraid? A film that is quite literally, with no hyperbole, unlike anything I’ve experienced in my entire life. Ari Aster is a filmmaker that I really love, as Hereditary and Midsommar are two of my favorite films from the last several years – those are undeniably some weird films that certainly ask a lot of modern audiences, but I wouldn’t quite call them inaccessible or anything. In fact, I have been delighted to see both of them really thriving in the film-fan community since their release. Beau is Afraid is a huge next-step for Aster as a filmmaker, as it genuinely feels like the most impressive feat he’s accomplished thus far in terms of his directorial efforts. From the moment the film begins, it immediately has such a larger scale and scope than his other two features.

The film follows Beau (Joaquin Phoenix) who suffers from immense paranoia and anxiety as he embarks on an epic odyssey to get home and visit his mother. If that feels like a vague plot description, it’s because it only sums up 10% of what goes down in the film – and I genuinely don’t think I could even spoil the rest of the film if I tried. Beau feels less like a fully realized character and more of a vessel for paranoia and anxiety; a man who ridden with fear of all the worst-case scenarios he comes up with in his head, and we go with him through the journey of all of them as they occur. Through Beau and his journey, Aster takes us on a truly dream-like journey – sometimes even a nightmare-fuel journey at times.

This is the type of film that you’re either completely on-board with or you’re more than likely lost; not even narratively, but just lost in what Aster is even trying to accomplish thematically and stylistically. To call this “Kafkaesque” is not inaccurate at all, as it certainly feels so bizarre and dream-like in nearly every sequence, with seemingly unexplainable things simply… happening to Beau as a character and seeing him reeling with them. I also saw a lot of shades of Charlie Kaufman’s Synecdoche, New York and I’m thinking of ending things, Darren Aronofsky’s mother!, and even David Lynch’s Eraserhead at times.

However, even with these comparisons in mind, I can’t quite call Beau is Afraid quite like anything else I’ve ever seen, and that’s one of my favorite things about it. It’s a film that fully commits to its own identity and style from the moment it begins, and truly feels like it never compromises what it’s trying to accomplish and say at any given point. It’s a film that’s fully alive with ideas and imagination at every given turn, with a truly fantastic performance from Joaquin Phoenix who really does wonders with the more comedic elements of the screenplay as well as delivering the dramatic elements as predictably great as you’d expect him to – truly one of his best performances in recent memory.

One of the best surprises that Beau is Afraid has to offer is simply how funny and quite silly it is at times. Aster really made a name for himself when it came to becoming the king of modern horror movies with Hereditary and Midsommar, but here he fully tears down the box that people tried to contain him within and delivers something that can’t be tied down to any one genre. At times, Beau is Afraid feels like the funniest film you’ve seen in quite sometime – and at other times, it is so freakishly nightmarish and unsettling that it surpasses Midsommar and Hereditary due to how it digs to something even more unpleasant.

Do these elements always mesh together well? I truly think that’s a case by case basis for the audience, as I truly can understand why someone wouldn’t love this. But in a day and age where true auteurism is becoming increasingly rare to find within wide theatrical release, I was pretty astounded by Beau is Afraid at every turn. It’s quite the feat, and completely entranced me from start to finish.


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