Beau is Afraid and so am I

A scene from Beau is afraid. Photo provided by A24.

One of my favorite types of horror has to be psychological horror. They usually don’t have to rely on jump scares or loud noises. There are still some that do, but great tension buildup and characterization are mostly focused on more, for they are the key elements that make this genre of horror better than others. 

“Beau is Afraid” is a passion project coming to reality, with director Ari Aster having enough success and merit to experiment on unique storylines and concepts. Going into this film, I’d only seen one trailer, which I barely remembered, but I loved Aster’s previous films “Hereditary” and “Midsommar”, working with the film company A24. I knew I would be interested in this movie. This movie stars one of the greatest actors in our generation, Joaquin Phoenix, and some popular actors like Nathan Lane (Lion King ‘94) and Stephen Mckinley (Dune ‘21). I prefer films that don’t have a bunch of A- and B-list stars crammed into one movie. When planning to watch this movie, please take into account that it is a three-hour film that should not be missed by a bathroom break or a refill on popcorn. Plan ahead because you do not want to miss the ride that Ari Aster will take you on with “Beau is Afraid”.

Themes that come to mind when thinking of this film are themes of agoraphobia, childhood trauma, and control. This is one of Aster’s most profound movies yet. It has some of the most insane ideas but at the same time it works so well. The story follows Beau Wasserman, a middle-aged man living with what seems to be a mental illness in the area of generalized anxiety. Only having his mother, he lives far away from her in an apartment, where he goes to regular therapy sessions to talk about his past with his mother. Mayhem is let loose following bizarre events centered on him getting to his mother’s house. 

The most unique feeling from this film is that of its comedy. Being featured predominantly alongside the aspects of horror, both genres coexist without the other impeding and ruining certain moments. It works as both funny and scary. Aster’s writing is so unique, offering moments in scenes to have something incredibly serious going on but then in the background, some of the funniest things you would ever see pop up. I found myself laughing so hard, only to then be taken off guard by a sudden switch to seriousness and emotion. This style works perfectly with the fact that Beau is more of a reactionary character. Things will happen to him and then Phoenix responds with some of the best acting I have seen in a while. The various emotions that his character goes through during the entire film are exemplary. Phoenix was meant for this role. His range is vast and he is a great physical actor, willing to do wild things to fulfill the director’s vision.

The supporting cast did an amazing job as well. Armen Nahapetian (young Beau) does a tremendous job mimicking the mannerisms of adult Beau, hitting the mark at every emotional scene. Kylie Rogers (Toni) plays such an unlikable character so well. She was a driving force in the plot of the second act and created so much tension for the main character.  

The cinematography of this film is fantastic. Ari Aster continues to improve with every movie. It is leagues better than his first, “Hereditary”. There is one point in the third act where animation is used and it is so cool and fresh to see in a live action movie. It reminded me of mixed media movies like “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?”. The setting helps play into the themes so well, it gives such an uneasy feeling almost all the time, making you wonder if this story takes place in an alternate universe or a dystopian society. 

The third act had some of the most bizarre scenes that I couldn’t even imagine, something I would never expect from Aster. A lot of questions I had the entirety of the movie were answered while some were left to interpretation. I prefer films like that because it makes me think more and I can take what I want from it.

Ari Aster has so much talent and already has such a distinct style that stands out from the rest of many horror directors. He has helped influence the future of horror for the better. We wouldn’t have projects like “Barbarian” or “Smile” if it weren’t for directors like Aster taking the risk of experimenting with different styles of writing, surpassing many tropes and creating new ones as a foundation for psychological horror.

There are a ton of surprises in this film, but overall it was a fun, tense and enjoyable movie to watch. If I could give it a rating out of 10, it would be a 9.0/10. I would rank it higher if the run time was trimmed by around 20 minutes or so. This is a great movie for people who love film and horror. I would definitely recommend seeing it in theaters if possible.

Diego Garcia