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Beau is Afraid Review | Movie Metropolis

Where to begin with Ari Aster’s latest disturbing, mind-bending look at the human psyche, how about with the man himself. No director has flawed me in just two feature films the way that Ari Aster has, with his two indie-horror-hits Hereditary and Midsommar. Aster’s films are twisted, disturbing and filled with hidden detail and meaning, which is no different with his 3-hour nightmare comedy, Beau is Afraid.

Beau is Afraid is an indescribable nightmare of a film, but here goes! Beau, played by Joaquin Phoenix, is a nervous wreck of a man who ultimately is trying to get home to see his incredibly overbearing mother. Beau is the type of person who thinks the world is out to get him and honestly he might be right! He regularly chats with his therapist about past trauma and lives on the most crime-ridden street in the world. So when he misses his flight to see his mum and things essentially go tits up, he goes on an existential odyssey back home to uncover some dark truths.

Ari Aster’s third feature film almost has to be seen to be believed, it’s that out there! This is a film you experience rather than just watch. Set in a nightmarish-alternate reality, we’re placed in the shoes of Beau from the get go as we see his distorted world view come to life in all the worst ways. It’s an anxiety-inducing panic attack of a film (sounds fun right!) that plays like a modern day Greek tragicomedy. That being said Beau is Afraid is also Aster’s funniest film yet. From these incredibly over-the-top and insane situations you have to find the humour in all the absurdity. You won’t know whether to laugh, cry or just watch on in disbelief.

Beau is Afraid promotional picture

Something I admire about Ari Aster’s work is that he always packs the frame full of detail and meaning, he’s almost ‘Kubrickian’ in his approach to every shot being perfectly placed. Just from looking around a scene you’ll find countless sight gags and foreshadowing (especially in the first act!) that on a one time watch might feel inconsequential but on a re-watch will make the film so much richer. It’s almost like Aster rewards the audience for engaging with his film, something most directors rarely come close to achieving.

Beau is Afraid feels like a four act film, each section split into its own distinct style and setting. At 3 hours long, many will find Beau is Afraid to be a gruelling slog, especially if you can’t find the humour in it all, which is completely understandable. Its anxiety-inducing narrative and twisted sense of humour make it a very tough film to recommend, but a crazy ride none-the-less. If you thought his past two films were ‘weird’, wait till you find out what’s hiding in the attic!

The first two sections of the film are definitely the strongest. The grotesque and grubby cityscape which Beau inhabits is rife with danger and dark humour. Whereas the suburban family home, where Beau finds himself later on, is full of paranoia and fake smiles. From there, the film takes a psychedelic turn, with an animated play sequence put on by a travelling theatre troupe. While very abstract and confusing, it’s hypnotic to watch and really lays out the film’s key themes visually. Then we get to the final act at Beau’s mother’s stunning mansion-like home, where the less said about this section the better. However, the ending is definitely where Aster’s indulgence feels the most obnoxious.

This might be my favourite Joaquin Phoenix ‘weirdo’ performance. He embodies the childlike nature of a middle-aged man riddled with worry. Some of his reactions to these increasingly crazy scenarios are straight-up hilarious to watch but also felt incredibly real and raw. Special credit must also go to Patti Lupone as Beau’s mum Mona who appears in pivotal scenes throughout. She perfectly captures the intimidating and controlling mother with some truly scenery-chewing stuff towards the end.

Overall, Beau is Afraid is a love it or hate it film. Aster clearly made this with a very specific audience in mind. It’s a big swing from a young filmmaker in his prime that will alienate many but excite others. If you didn’t like his past two films this won’t win you over, but if you’re a fan of Aster’s distinct style and cinema in general, Beau is Afraid is an unforgettable movie going experience. Give Beau a go, it might just scar you for life! 

Rating: 4 out of 5.

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