Writer and director Ari Aster is back in theaters with his new A24 film, “Beau is Afraid,” a three hour-long horror comedy that depicts anxiety and mommy issues in the most confusing, abstract way.
Joaquin Phoenix plays Beau, an anxiety-riddled man in his 30s, in what feels like a trauma dump from Aster. As the movie title suggests, Beau is afraid of literally everything. He is afraid of his mom, dying, sleeping, intimacy and everything else you can think of.
Those that have seen Aster’s previous films like “Hereditary” (2018) and “Midsommar” (2019) are familiar with Aster’s twisted version of comedy. Considering he described “Hereditary” as a family drama, I knew I was getting myself into some deranged concept when going to see “Beau is Afraid,” but I had no idea just how mind-boggling it would be.
I would not say “Beau is Afraid” was a total flop, but I would definitely say this feels like a passion project for Aster rather than something more cohesive for his audience to enjoy.
The film feels broken up into several different chapters.
It starts with Beau in his therapist’s office where he talks about his fears of flying back home to visit his mother, with whom he does not have the best relationship. Everything seems normal until he steps foot outside, which is when all hell breaks loose.
We see the city the way Beau imagines it in his head, violently dangerous and loud. On his walk to his apartment, the streets of his city are filled with people setting fires and trying to stab and rob one another, making Beau hyperventilate until he can muster up the courage to run to his apartment building.
These interactions are heavily dramatized but feel real the way they do to Beau.
He becomes so afraid to leave his apartment that he skips his flight back home. As I sat there watching the film, I was wondering when that Aster-style shock factor would kick in. And then I saw a decapitated head – an element Aster clearly has a thing for.
The next day he finds out his mother lost her head, literally, from a fallen chandelier in her home. Beau runs out of his apartment and gets hit by a car.
After that, everything begins to feel like a fever dream.
I never thought I would see Phoenix lying in a K-pop poster-covered teenage girl’s bedroom, but I did. He eventually breaks his way out of the couple who took him in their home after their psychopath teenage daughter drinks paint, the chemicals bulging her eyes out of her head.
There are many uncomfortable scenes to watch in “Beau is Afraid,” but watching someone swallow thick blue paint until they puff up is at the top of the list.
“Beau is Afraid” is, in all honesty, a difficult watch. I enjoyed the idea of feeling the anxieties with Beau, but watching that in a theater for three hours was torturous and claustrophobic.
Filled with metaphors for what might be Aster’s personal mommy issues, A24 cradles Aster way too much and excessively gives him creative freedom in this film.
This entire movie could have been avoided if Aster had just gone to therapy.
The plot itself is unclear and all over the place. At one point in the movie, Aster makes us watch a play that tells Beau’s story, which could just be told in the actual movie. It drones on for way too long, all for it to cut back to the present day and reveal it was just Beau’s imagination.
Beau goes through too many different settings in the film to keep track of. We start with Beau in a normal city apartment, then somehow end up in a strange robotic-like couple’s home, a K-pop bedroom, a hidden society in the forest, his mother’s surreal three-story house and we flashback to see young Beau on a cruise trip.
It is just all over the place. In my opinion, Aster had so much potential to tell a striking story about an anxious Beau, especially with Phoenix by his side, but did not deliver. Though Phoenix did deliver an astounding performance, the character written for him did not.
Anabel Martinez can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Anabel Martinez is a senior digital media major with a concentration in film and television, and a journalism minor. She serves as the managing editor overseeing all of the Campus Times sections and was previously editor-in-chief in Spring 2022.