By Owen Glancy
“Beau is Afraid” is unlike any other film ever made. Ari Aster has made a name for himself in recent years as being one of the most exciting horror movie directors working in Hollywood today, and this film just kicks that excitement up a notch.
Even more so than “Hereditary” and “Midsommar,” Aster’s previous two films, “Beau is Afraid” uses psychological horror and atmosphere to scare rather than jump scares. While a good jump scare is always appreciated, the terror felt from this film has a much higher staying power. You will think about this movie constantly after seeing it.
The two biggest things that lend to this immaculate atmosphere are the protagonist and the cinematography. Joaquin Phoenix's performance as Beau is immaculate. He is able to really sell audiences on this pathetic, yet empathetic character. It feels reminiscent of his performance as the Joker from the 2019 film of the same name, yet it separates itself enough from it to feel new and captivating.
Beau’s status as an unreliable narrator shrouds the whole film in an air of mystery. Even though the plot may be simple, it’s because we see the story through Beau’s perspective that it becomes complex.
The cinematography is astoundingly trippy. It’s incredible how effortlessly the camera shifts between reality and delusion, often forcing the viewer to really think about if what they’re seeing is actually happening or not.
Many scenes will have little plot relevance, but through creative use of the camera, these slower moments feel just as important as the film’s bigger scenes.
It’s through the combination of clever cinematography and an unreliable narrator that the film achieves its unique, dreamlike atmosphere.
The divide between Beau’s paranoid visions and reality is nonexistent in the eyes of the protagonist, sucking the audience into this trauma-induced reality where down is up and nothing makes sense.
While the film can be confusing at times, this confusion is precisely why it works so well. Every actor sells their role in a convincing way. Phoenix’s performance is the only one with any staying power, but the other actors do their jobs and keep the audience engaged.
The film’s theme of generational trauma comes off so realistically thanks to all of the aforementioned aspects of it blending so well together. Even if what happens on screen is too bizarre to believe, the mother-son relationship at the core feels real. This lends to an experience that both terrified and moved me.
Not every aspect of “Beau is Afraid” is great. The film is three hours long, and while it is engaging, you do feel that runtime, especially at the halfway point. The film’s ending is so good that it makes waiting through the runtime worth it, but there were many instances where it could have ended in an equally satisfying manner.
Some of the film’s major plot twists are far too strange, even for what I would consider to be one of the weirdest movies ever made. They make sense in the context of the story, but are so absurd that they do briefly take the audience out of the experience.
Ari Aster sought to make a film that chills audiences to their core while examining themes of generational trauma and paranoia that felt uniquely “him.” And he succeeded. No other director could have brought this film to the screen in such a fascinating and thrilling way.
For as weird and convoluted “Beau is Afraid” can be at times, the feeling that this film gives you once the credits roll cannot be put into words. Even as I left the theater, I still felt as if I was glued to my seat, watching Beau attempt to get home. If there is any film that is guaranteed to permanently occupy a space in your brain, it is “Beau is Afraid.”
A: Weird in all the right ways