An Odyssey of Modern Anxieties

by Liam Trump ’24

Veering off of the cult-ish edge from his previous two films Hereditary (2018) and Midsommar (2019), writer-director Ari Aster returns with a refreshingly surrealist tragicomedy horror film, Beau Is Afraid. Delving into themes of fear, paranoia, and guilt, Aster puts his audience through a 3-hour long journey of a man battling his inner demons.

With celebrated actor Joaquin Phoenix playing the title character, the film follows Beau Wassermann through his journey to visit his mother, finding himself in numerous bizarre scenarios, all nightmarish in their own way. From the opening sequence alone, audiences are plunged into Beau’s anxiety-induced world. As the runtime progresses, the layers of Beau’s psyche are peeled back, unveiling how his mother’s control in his formative years fueled the trauma that dictates his current actions and inability to forge his own path in life.

Throughout the film, Phoenix delivers a jittery, childlike performance that perfectly captures the anxieties and fears of this troubled character. Even with a more narrow role, Phoenix is able to showcase his renowned range as a performer. His mannerisms and line delivery impressively portray a fragile man trying desperately to escape the clutches of his own mind.

Outside of the nuanced portrayal of Beau, the film’s sense of tone and atmosphere is impeccably crafted. The camera often lingers on certain scenes, creating an aura of tension, and there are several music cues that accentuate the more suspenseful elements. The set design is strange and uncanny, reflecting the malaise of Beau. Offsetting the bleak nature is a strong sense of humor that works in keeping the film from devolving into complete dowerness.

Where Beau Is Afraid falters, however, is in its pace and editing choices. The three hour runtime is hardly justified as many scenes come across as drawn-out and meandering. The movie is divided into distinct chapters and while they do help in exploring Beau’s character, connecting specific plot points across the chapters can be difficult to manage. Another detriment of focusing so heavily on Beau is the fact that other characters such as Toni (Kylie Rogers) and Elaine (Parker Posey) lack much development in terms of characterization, making it so even though their characters have strong performances behind them, they feel one-note when on screen.

But even with its shortcomings and while it is a vast departure from Aster’s previous films in terms of pace, subject matter, and overall cohesiveness, Beau Is Afraid still manages to present a unique and stylized story that will be sure to leave a lasting impression.

Grade: B-