Beau is Afraid Review: Ari Aster’s film is a three-hour nightmare

Ari Aster’s dazzling third move clarifies his artistic obsessions while expanding them into surreal new forms.


A morbidly picaresque guilt trip that expands the bloated neuroses of a single Jewish man into a three-hour nightmare so awkward and personal that sitting through it feels like you’re a guest in your own closet (funnily enough!), Ari Aster’s seriocomic Beau Is. “Afraid” may not fit the horror mold as well as “Inherited” or “Midsommar,” but this unhinged epic about a Zeta male’s journey to reunite with his overbearing mother ends up being perhaps the scariest film to date.

Mileage varies based on this score – the scares are usually smaller oh shit, Toni Collette is crawling on the ceiling and more oy gevalt, joaquin phoenix’s huge prosthetic testicles make me cringe under the weight of my own emotional baggage – but anyone who would rather die for their mother than pick up the phone when she calls should mix some Zoloft into their popcorn just to be safe. These people should be prepared for a film that induces the same cognitive dissonance from the get-go, often relying on this friction to drive the plot forward rather than dramatic conflict. Above all, they should prepare for a film that they will love in an all-too-familiar way: unconditionally, but with the nagging annoyance of why it’s so hard.

Not that you should expect anything less from the dark prince of indie cinema co-dependency. Despite throwing in a degree of magical realism that puts it closer to a twisted fairy tale than “Tin Dob” than his earlier work, Aster’s dazzling third move clarifies his artistic obsessions, even as he expands them into surreal new forms. Once again, “Beau Is Afraid” is a sickeningly funny – and fiercely skeptical – look at the unstable relationship between love and obligation, lineage and confinement. Again, it is full of haunted attics, headless bodies and ominous triangular houses, which have already become the hallmark of the young author.

Yet for all its self-reference, “Beau Is Afraid” quickly reveals itself to be a fundamentally different beast than “The Heir” and/or “Midsommar” (and not just because the film is so unapologetically Jewish that everyone feels like it was done by a mohel would be). This change of pace begins with Aster’s decision to forgo simple genre narrative in favor of an unclassifiable odyssey of mental disorder. While the film’s plot couldn’t be simpler – 49-year-old virgin Beau Wassermann (Phoenix) travels to his mother’s house through a deranged country – its fragmentary and strictly episodic narrative owes more to Charlie Kaufman and Albert Brooks than it does to itself. does with any of the ancient Greeks.

But the most significant departure from Aster’s previous work lies in how “Beau Is Afraid” articulates its relationship with fear. Here’s a movie that by default is tense in the service of funny, not funny in the service of tension. This thing is only a few seconds long, and makes you laugh at the perverse understatement of its title, just as Beau himself is only a few seconds long, before his terror begins to seep out of the screen even harder as he pulls you towards him. that.

Beau is scared

“Beau fear”


Through the eyes of Aster’s unborn protagonist, the intrauterine prologue begins with a dull push and begins with the screams of her widowed mother in labor. Mona Wassermann cries because her baby doesn’t; she is too busy listening to the pain she caused by coming into the world. Reintroduced to his therapist’s office almost five decades later—now a balding, graying chick who acts like a scared little boy who wants to go home in the middle of a sleepover—Beau is so wracked with guilt that he still seems haunted by the first thing . memory.

That lingering effect also gauges the brilliance and scale of Phoenix’s deer-in-the-headlights performance, as the actor — who rhymes about meekness in the face of menace better than anyone alive — is asked to play a recessive character who grows more pathetic almost every time. scene (there are two clear exceptions to this rule, both unforgettable). Phoenix isn’t playing a person so much as a sentient underbelly, and she’s fully aware that it’s not her job to articulate Beau’s concerns so much as to suppress them. He anchors this film like the light bulb in the middle of a lampshade, illuminating the spinning merry-go-round of various fears that Aster revolves around.

Beau never really travels anywhere but deeper into his own tortured mind, but the world he inhabits is refracted so violently through his neuroses that going from “naughty loser” to “humiliated fool” still feels like the adventure of a lifetime. For much of the film’s dizzying opening act, it looks like the guy might never make it past the front door of his apartment building.

Paid for with part of the blindest check ever cut by A24, the lawless town Beau lives in is essentially Marjorie Taylor Greene’s New York brainchild. Sidewalks are covered in trash, suicide is a source of public entertainment, and a naked serial killer called the “Birthday Boy Stab Man” is stabbing people to their deaths in broad daylight. That local street vendors sell AR-15s like they’re bags might strike Ms. Greene as more of a feature than a bug, but the guns are the perfect showcase for Aster’s vision of American fun: a place so identified with and driven by identity. individualism, according to which co-dependence seems almost a sensible defense mechanism.

Life in Beau’s apartment doesn’t seem any safer or any less crazy. A mundane paper sign taped to Beau’s door warns that a brown recluse spider has inexplicably gotten loose somewhere in the building, and one of Beau’s neighbors begins to complain increasingly loudly despite Beau’s monastic silence. That is, until an antidepressant-related mishap causes things to go all “mom!” as the city’s craziest residents pour in like water pouring through a crack in the hull of a submarine.

The craziness only starts to make sense when Beau has to call Mona (a little-seen Patti LuPone) and tell her that she won’t actually be making it home to celebrate the anniversary of her father’s death. All it takes is a devastatingly passive-aggressive “it’s okay” from Beau’s mom to know that this is not good at all.

It was never good. Aster isn’t too interested in the psychological undertones of it all — like “Come and See,” “Songs from the Second Floor” and several other films that made a significant impression on the director, “Beau Is Afraid” is obsessed with dread. into a black hole that is deeper than it is wide. But one phone call is enough to indicate that Mona has reduced Beau’s guilt to anxious impotence. He’s convinced his son that taking any control over his life would betray his unrequited love for him, and now he’s upset that his middle-aged eternal child is too afraid of the world to find his way on his own.

Beau is scared

“Beau fear”


Mona is both Beau’s only source of comfort and the cause of his self-destruction, but the thought that he might never see her again proves powerful enough to push Beau out his front door… and into the path of an oncoming truck. That’s all very much Frodo wakes up in Rivendell after being stabbed by the Nazgûlas Beau arrives in an affluent corner of the suburbs, where he is loved and re-infantilized by two overzealous parents (Nathan Lane and Amy Ryan as Roger and Grace) whose soldier son has died in combat.

Sporting blue velvet smiles to mask their shared heartache, this eerily generous couple is only the first and most expansive of the many strange characters Beau encounters during his bizarre adventure in his alter ego. Roger and Grace chime in in unison about how much time the film spends on them, and Denis Ménochet’s weird pop-in as a fellow guest with severe PTSD doesn’t help much—partly because Aster’s compositions are usually funnier when he feels he shouldn’t be laughed at—but that’s all part nevertheless sets the stage for the rest of Beau’s journey. Either he finds the strength to own his pain, or his pain continues to own him.

From there, “Beau Is Afraid” becomes a long parade of grotesquely instructive moments, its script flowing like a children’s story that leads straight to hell. Pawel Pogorzelski’s rich cinematography lends another Aster project the patina of a lucid dream, allowing Beau’s adventure to be both real and fantastical. Aster uses this dichotomy to best effect in a film that offers mythic explanations for Beau’s inherited trauma, and the director relies on Bobby Krlic’s atonal score and two of the funniest needle drops in recent memory to keep viewers on their toes. -balance even when we start to find our way. The songs used here shouldn’t be spoiled, so let’s just say that Aster doesn’t let his formal classicism mask the fact that he’s also an unrepentant ’90s kid (which helps explain the cursed Moviefone reference and Parker Posey’s pitch- its perfect formation in a climatic role).

Each subsequent chapter of “Beau Is Afraid” offers more momentum than the last, but Aster finds her rhythm as she paddles off the deep end, and the film comes together more and more as the tonal shifts—and flashbacks—become more choppy. and common. A bittersweet and hypnotic interlude that assumes the innocence of an elementary school play gives way to an outburst of shocking violence, while the grounded confrontation that pretends to rationalize Beau’s story becomes downright the most depraved thing Aster has ever shot. While the height of his ambitions is unquestionable, it’s gratifying to discover just how low he’s willing to go to achieve them.

And yet, with each new masterful sequence and/or uniquely demented gag, “Beau Is Afraid” feels a little more generic. Aster has always done an impeccable job of interpolating influences, and “Beau Is Afraid” retains the spirit of the true original despite what it borrows from (the Film Society screening series the director pre-programmed for the film is an extremely self-aware foundation of what led to the making of the film), but every further reference sheds light on the path taken by little Beau himself.

While Aster may have envisioned the character as a hollow version of himself—a protagonist whose sole purpose is to be drawn and quartered for nearly three full hours, his guilt and gratitude pull him in opposite directions until he feels like he’s finally snapping. half – the filmmaker shines such a bright light into Beau’s soul that I found myself wishing there was more to see. All the wonderfully deranged details of Beau and his mother’s relationship left me desperate for a version of the film that was closer to gritty family drama than comedic fantasy, an awkward takeaway from a film born of such pure imagination.

But while Beau himself doesn’t prove all that memorable, his fear weighs on us in a way that’s impossible to forget. Few films have so boldly explored how taxing the safety of unconditional love can be in such a cruel world, and even fewer — including Aster’s own “Inheritance” — have been so willing to sit through the irreconcilable horrors of trying to share that love with someone else.

grade: B+

A24’s release, “Beau Is Afraid” opens Friday, April 14th in New York and Los Angeles, followed by theaters everywhere on Friday, April 21st.

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