Review by Joseph Fayed
Beau Is Afraid is the third feature from Ari Aster. After earning praise for his first two horror flicks, Aster returns to the genre with another story dealing heavily with trauma. This time, however, Aster incorporates some dark humor within his film. This results in a spectacle of performances on screen that — no matter the context — will leave you engaged.
Beau (Joaquin Phoenix) is a man who grew up without a father and now has a strained relationship with his mother. Paranoid of his surroundings, Beau embarks on a trip to be reunited with his mother on his parents' wedding anniversary. The trip does not go as Beau imagined, and many hijinks occur along the way.
Beau has many reasons to be afraid. In the series of events that transpire, Beau's weaknesses are exploited, and there is fear for how easily his life can be in danger. The horror elements are as strong as ever, but so are the humorous elements to this dark comedy. Familial trauma — a staple of Aster's films — is never as straightforward as it seems in real life. Mix this in with rejection, and the film highlights the absurdity of such trauma, even in its unorthodox approach to the theme.
The film is visually stunning. Every bright color is beautifully contrasted with darker lighting during more intense moments on screen. The most notable part of the film is a detailed animated sequence that takes Beau's journey in an unexpected direction. The art style used makes it feel like I was watching something entirely different. While Aster's previous film Midsommar had the advantage of being filmed entirely outdoors for its sequences, this one clearly had the budget to make up for its lack of natural scenery.
Joaquin Phoenix knows how to play unhinged and/or depressed characters well. Since Beau is not a character who wears his emotions on his sleeve, Phoenix can convincingly show Beau reaching his breaking point at various moments. Zoe Lister-Jones and Patti LuPone both steal their scenes as the younger and older versions of Beau's mother. Beau's mother is a very secretive person, and as we learn more about her repressed feelings towards her son, the story is able to come full circle.
Beau Is Afraid is a new take on family trauma, a familiar element in Ari Aster's filmography. There is a good balance of humor and terror, so that the nearly three-hour runtime doesn't feel oversaturated with either of those. If you're looking for every hidden message or metaphor to be deciphered, I wouldn't recommend watching this. It seemed like I was sitting through a one of a kind nightmare where I couldn't tell the difference between truth or fantasy. I suppose if I enjoyed this, maybe Ari Aster and I both need to be enrolled in therapy. Perhaps a group session, so that I could pick at his mind a little bit.
Beau is Afraid is now playing in theaters.