Ari Aster has certified himself as one of the best directors working right now. With only two films under his belt, there is nothing he makes I wouldn’t see. Thereby, Beau is Afraid was one of my most anticipated movies of 2023. Like everyone else, I had absolutely no clue what it was about, but I trusted Ari. So, on a Sunday night I went to the cinema to see an 8:30 screening of this film. I had heard some things about Beau is Afraid but nothing could prepare me for those next three hours.
I will be honest. I don’t even know where to start with this film. There are so many different layers of themes, subtext and motifs that writing this review scared me. So, let’s start with the basics…
Beau is Afraid is a very entertaining and gripping movie. As soon as the lights went dark, I was invested in this world and character. Despite having absolutely no clue what was happening for 80% of it, I was intrigued by this adventure. But there is a core problem with the movie that is being brought up a lot – the run time. You truly feel the weight of those three hours. It has scenes that stretch on for too long and a lot of that fat needs to be trimmed. I understand Ari Aster wants to put you in the protagonist’s shoes but for a lot of this movie I simply wanted it to move on.
Ari Aster introduces a completely new type of horror. Beau is Afraid is about feeling what our protagonist feels. Ari wants the audience to feel as trapped, afraid and confused of the world as Beau does. He accomplishes this expertly through horrific imagery, a chaotic plot and evil characters. Even sequences that seem normal have this uncanny and upsetting vibe to them – a perfect representation of Beau’s anxiety.
Something that isn’t being talked about with this film is how funny it is. Throughout Beau is Afraid, there are these simple lines or props that instantly made my audience laugh out loud. In moments of high tension, it was an excellent break that made the 3-hour run time feel slightly shorter.
The performances in Beau is Afraid are incredible. Joaquin Phoenix can paint 15 different versions of fear and anxiety across his face in a way I have never seen done before. Even when Beau seems at peace there is this subtle neurotic nature that is bubbling below the surface. Joaquin just makes this very heightened and exaggerated world feel real through an earnest and sincere performance. On the other hand, I love how the other actors felt so over the top and exaggerated. In particular, Patti Lupone, Nathan Lane and Kylie Rogers all bring something new to these insane characters. As a result, it once again makes us feel Beau’s anxiety towards the people around him.
In a conversation between Martin Scorsese and Ari, Martin kept mentioning the technical skill of Ari Aster in Hereditary and Midsommar. In Beau is Afraid, it is at an all-time high. The angles, slight pans, blocking, production design, editing and lighting are truly ahead of their time. Every single detail of this film amplifies that anxious and muddled vibe. It is so effective in making the audience feel on edge that I drove home feeling uneasy. Every crew member of Beau is Afraid has added to building a world not to dissimilar from the Shining.
Ultimately, Beau is Afraid is about evoking a feeling in the audience. I think a lot of viewers will get too wrapped up in an explanation or a deeper meaning. However, I think Aster wants one simple thing with this film – to impart his own anxieties and therapy sessions onto them. It is about understanding the psyche of Beau and so many other people struggling with serious mental health issues. To me, Aster has one goal with this film and accomplishes it perfectly.
Should you watch Beau is Afraid?
Beau is Afraid will be the most divisive film of 2023. If you don’t know how crazy this film is going in, I don’t think you will enjoy it. But if you go in embracing the strange elements and long run time you will love it like I did.