Beau is Afraid


‘…a vibrant, compassionate, alienating drama aimed specifically at giving you the absolute fear…’

Beau is Afraid, and so should you be; writer/director Ari Aster has been working his way up to enfant terrible status with his increasingly bizarre and subversive films, and his latest entry takes a style that was already somewhat outré to new extremes. Aster’s breakout movie, Hereditary, was a popular supernatural thriller which made good on its abstract pretentions; by the time of his follow-up Midsommar, the directorial flourishes were overwhelming the story elements, with a consequent drop in narrative tension as a result. Fortunately, the deliberately shaggy-dog Beau is Afraid releases Aster from his genre confinements, and provides a vast 180 minute canvas that are guaranteed to horrify and fascinate in equal measures. It’s still a horror film, in some ways, but it’s also an original work of art in four chapters that takes zero prisoners.

Joaquin Phoenix plays Beau Wassermann, a man who is having a bad day. In fact, it’s about the worst day ever. The day before, after leaving the office of his therapist, we see Beau buy a gift for his mother and prepare to fly home to visit her; it’s the anniversary of his father’s death. But problems with his neighbours cause Beau to sleep late, get his keys stolen and miss his flight, much to his mother’s chagrin. Beau lives in a lawless street in a city called Corrina, and stepping outside to get some water to take his medication with proves a costly mistake as a mob of street-scum invade his apartment. Beau is injured in the aftermath, but ends up staying with seemingly kindly couple Roger and Grace (Amy Ryan and Nathan Lane) while he recovers. But recovery has to take second place to getting home, and to do that, Beau has got one ordeal after another ahead of him…

The first hour of Beau is Afraid is an absolute ordeal to watch; it’s remarkable what a complete, dangerous, nightmarish and yes, frightening world that Aster builds around the character, down to the music cues, posters, even the slogans on the outside of a sex-shop feel darkly threatening. Beau’s recuperation period similarly goes off the rails very fast, and his soul-searching in a nearby forest has folksy echoes of the remote community in Midsommar. Things never get better, they only get worse; Beau is an eternal victim, of his neighbours, of his community, of his mother, even passers-by are quick to put the boot in. So even we’re not rooting for Beau to thrive, it would be enough just to survive the arcane world that Aster creates. Phoenix is, as you might expect, as immense in this role as he’s been in just about everything for a decade, and there is strong support from Patti Lapone as his mother Mona, who is largely seen in flashback.

Beau is Afraid is bound to be an extremely divisive film, many will find it overlong, remote and painfully obscure in meaning. But it’s also bold, original, modern, funny and compellingly downbeat, and probably the best of Aster’s films to date. This is an art-house epic, but one that does have a tangential connection to the world gone mad that we’re all living in. If you don’t fancy the sound of it, stay away; yes, this is the kind of movie that sends many scurrying for alternative entertainment, but if approached in a fecund state of mind, Beau is Afraid is a vibrant, compassionate drama aimed specifically at giving you the absolute fear.

In UK and Irish Cinemas 19 May 2023. Thanks to Sony for providing big-screen access.


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  1. Divisive is the right word. I’m one of those people who finds Ari Aster to be extremely pretentious. The moment I heard Beau is Afraid would be 3 hours long I was convinced, but I will watch it some day and judge for myself. Although I doubt it will speak to me if Hereditary and Midsommar both failed to do so.

    • Take all the pretention from these other two films, then roll it together to create maximum pretentiousness, then fil 180 mins with the result. Will be interested to hear what you think, but we’re leaning away from telling a story and more into symbolic mood pieces here…

  2. Beau is NOT afraid. That’s outright slander and worse, it’s mean. He is most likely couragedly challenged. These movies need to stop putting people in boxes. It’s an outrage. I’m outraged. I will now protest.

    ~carries sign that says “Our Lizard Overlords will eat ALL of us”

    What do we want?
    Not to be human burritos!
    When do we want that?
    All the time!

    ~ rah, huzzah, cheers

    • I thought Midsommar was a bore, but the first hour of this is so gruelling, you’ll never forget it. The climax isn’t a lorra laughs either…

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