With just two films, “Hereditary” and “Midsommar,” director Ari Aster has cemented himself as not just a master of horror, but also one of the best directors working today. His name is synonymous with divisive, thought-provoking, and meandering delves into the surreal and horrifying dark corners of our minds. With those two hits under his belt, he embarks with A24 once again, this time on an epic and psychotic journey to see one man’s odyssey from an urban hellscape to his mother’s mansion. That one man is Beau, played by Joaquin Phoenix, and as the title implies, he is afraid of just about everything. Ryan and I sat down in IMAX and buckled up to get hit by the truck that is “Beau is Afraid.”
“Beau is Afraid” answers the burning question, what if Wes Anderson or the Daniels directed your worst nightmares? This movie is what was inside the Everything Bagel. Nihilistic, chaotic, hilarious, nerve-wracking, and terrifying.
It’s a fair comparison to make, as “Beau is Afraid” has the maximalism universe-hopping of “Everything Everywhere,” and the whimsy and meticulous attention to every bit of minutia of a Wes Anderson picture, only twisted, subverted, and perverted in the most sinister and mean-spirited ways. For example, in act one, we see Beau at home. He lives in a hilariously exaggerated urban hellhole. Dead bodies on the streets, neighbors who are insane at best, and a rotting repellent atmosphere every bit as welcoming as a root canal. Aster splatters every surface with blink-and-you’ll-miss-it graffiti that even this seasoned punk rocker was taken aback by. This is filth, blasphemy, and perhaps even bits of the script that will no doubt be paused moments in the future. Great lyrics.
In fact, the entire movie is so meta and self-referential that repeat viewings will only uncover more and more layers of this horrid, rotten onion. Though I can’t imagine sitting through it all again, I know that one day my sheer curiosity will get the better of me. This is a two-watch minimum that most people will never watch a second time. Aster practically dares you to sit through it all the first time, and it is no accident that the audience is a repeated theme throughout, especially the bizarre final sequence.
Some people will call the movie too long, and it is, and I think that was entirely the point. “Beau is Afraid” is also a comedy. A sentence that is a joke unto itself in another bit of meta-genius by Aster.
Before I close, we have to talk about Joaquin Phoenix. His performance here is simply irrefutable proof that he is one of, if not THE, best actor working today. I would die on that hill. In “Beau,” he is a simpering, naked, pathetic, weakling, a product of neuroses too numerous to detail. It is Beau’s mommy issues and Joaquin’s searing performance that propel the film. Speaking of mommy issues, most armchair Freudians will pick that aspect apart as the point of the movie, but I tell you that is a smokescreen. The point of the movie is to live out a meaningless nightmare in which even the good things in life are made vile: childhood memories, mom and dad, love, sex, family, nothing is sacred in “Beau is Afraid.”
“Beau is Afraid” is one of the best horror movies I’ve ever seen.
4 out of 4 Jaws
Listen to our full review and cross-examination below.