After nearly four years of waiting, Ari Aster’s third theatrical film is officially here… and it’s tough to swallow.
The burgeoning director’s debut freshman and sophomore films “Hereditary” and “Midsommar” solidified themselves in cult horror status as cinematic heavy-hitters, inspiring a generation of young filmmakers and new-wave horror fans alike.
There has been endless anticipation surrounding his next cinematic foray, as many have been eagerly clambering to see what Aster has in store for audiences next. With a taste for the quietly horrifying and no stranger to the dissection of traumatic familial issues, several thematic elements of “Beau is Afraid” will be of no shock to audiences.
Littered with stunning philosophical takes on the paths we walk throughout life, “Beau is Afraid” doesn’t even warn you to buckle up before delivering severe, whip-lash-level experiences for audiences. Although the film is being lauded as a comedy, make no mistake, “Beau is Afraid” is an absurdist, psychological thriller. And Aster’s third cinematic offering will leave you speechless, gagging, and asking “what is even happening right now?” throughout the entirety of its three-hour runtime.
Written and directed by Ari Aster, and brought to you by iconic film house A24, “Beau is Afraid” stars Joaquin Phoenix in the titular role of Beau, as he grapples with the sudden death of his mother and partakes in a long, arduous journey home for the funeral. Although the film only takes place over the course of a few days, you are taken on the journey of a lifetime with Beau.
The film opens from the perspective of Beau, as he’s ripped from the safety and security of his mother’s womb and exposed to the harsh, cruel realities of the world. It truly puts a new meaning to the term cold open, and the chaos of what you’re watching remains consistent throughout the rest of your time with Beau.
It’s established early on that Beau struggles with his mental health, primarily, it seems he has several anxieties regarding the world around him. The over-dramatization of Beau’s anxieties serves as the tonal template for the film as a whole, and though audiences will reach a point where they are able to discern what is Beau’s actual reality and what is merely the projection of his anxieties, the line remains chaotically blurred.
Beau is an overgrown, sexually stunted, mama’s boy who never quite learned to un-latch from the teet of his mother and the empire she’s built from the ground up. Although this is revealed in the first few minutes of the film, the idea is developed and manipulated through countless flashbacks, twists and turns of Beau’s present reality, and reflected in nearly all of the female figures Beau comes across during his journey.
“Beau is Afraid” is one of those films that begs you to try to pull out a deeper meaning, but I promise you, there isn’t one. There’s no greater commentary to be made here other than that of the plight of man and their gnarly, Oedipus-adjacent relationships with their mothers. At times, the film borrows the mundane body horror that Aster is known for, and even a bloody kill ripped straight from “Midsommar,” but that’s about it.
Aster’s fingerprints are really felt in the nature of the film as a whole, and how he tackles the domestic topic of mommy issues.
So, sitting back, letting it all happen, and soaking in the memory of the chaos is the best way to handle your own personal interpretation of “Beau is Afraid.”
“Beau is Afraid” is a rather unexpected and unhinged offering from the director who brought us two of the most beautiful horror movies of all time, and we’re curious to see where he goes from here.
You can watch the trailer here.