‘Beau Is Afraid’ assessment: Ari Aster delivers a superb, 3-hour-long panic assault

Author/director Ari Aster has solid his status with the double whammy of Hereditary and Midsommar, two movies which might be each harrowingly horrifying but slyly humorous. Followers who’ve relished the nightmare-scorching visuals and deeply twisted finales of Aster’s work up to now would possibly anticipate one thing comparable in his newest. Excellent news for followers: Beau Is Afraid is peppered with jaw-dropping horrors and jokes so darkish you would possibly chortle or scream.

But, this epic — which Aster describes as a “Jewish Lord of the Rings“ — units its personal course, trekking not solely removed from horror conventions, however from film conventions as nicely. The result’s a movie that’s stunning, immersive and so emotionally uncooked that it’s primarily a three-hour-long panic assault as cinema. 

Proceed with warning. 

What’s Beau Is Afraid about? 

Credit score: Takashi Seida/A24

In its easiest type, Beau Is Afraid is a few fearful loser attempting to make his option to his overbearing mom’s home. In fact, Aster complicates this journey with a cascade of what-ifs, chasing down the worst-case state of affairs at each alternative. What’s the worst that might occur if you happen to misplaced your keys? If you happen to missed your flight? If you happen to disillusioned your mom? 

If you happen to’ve ever been affected by a equally relentless inside refrain, you’ll relate to Beau’s dilemma. He’s frozen by the chances till destiny — like a relentless bully — pushes him to not act, however to react. He’s compelled to go away the relative security of his grubby house for city streets which might be booming with noise and chaos, suffering from a rotting corpse, a half-naked dancer, and a totally nude serial stabber.

Violence will push him farther and farther out of his consolation zone to settings disparate and never all the time clearly perilous. He’ll discover himself awash within the eerie comforts of a complicated suburban household, amid a wandering theater troupe, adrift in an animated fantasy, all earlier than discovering his option to a mansion whose chilly structure warns us that it’s — in a way — a jail. After which Beau Is Afraid goes even farther, chucking audiences right into a nightmarish terrain we may by no means predict. And but chances are you’ll end up smiling like a madman all the way in which. 

Joaquin Phoenix leads a preposterously unimaginable forged. 

Nathan Lane, Joaquin Phoenix , and Amy Ryan hold hands in "Beau is Afraid."

Credit score: Takashi Seida/A24

Academy Award-winner Joaquin Phoenix stars as Beau, portraying the timid man behind a scruffy stubble; wispy, retreating grey hair; and an expression that glides from dumbfounded to aggrieved to horrified within the blink of a watch. That is an intensely demanding efficiency that thrusts the heralded actor via mind-snapping situations, one after one other, in addition to pushing him bodily; a run to the bodega is handled like an impediment course with life-or-death stakes. Even awkward social interactions would possibly end in an abrupt assault, and so Joaquin performs Beau like a battered animal, eternally skittish. His worry is fixed and twitches at contagious, urging the viewers to generously share in his nervousness via every hellish flip. 

Beau Is Afraid is structured much less like a movie and extra like a novel, with every chapter chucking Beau into a brand new setting. Manufacturing designer Fiona Crombie masterfully distinguishes every world from the following, in order that it may appear as if Beau has stumbled out of his film, which begins in a metropolis gone feral, into one thing softer and extra fantastical. These areas are occupied by a ridiculous stacking of stars, which deliver distinctive and dynamic costs to every chapter. 

Paired as plucky dad and mom, Amy Ryan and Nathan Lane deliver a brightness so bouncy that straightforward salutations play as punchlines. As their daughter Toni, Kylie Rogers’s growling menace presents a ferocious parody of minor angst. In flashbacks to Beau’s childhood, Zoe Lister-Jones performs a youthful model of his mom, Mona, with a snarling sharpness, whereas a wide-eyed Armen Nahapetian captures teen Beau’s mixture of marvel and terror. Celebrated character actors Stephen McKinley Henderson (Dune, Fences) and Richard Variety give wickedly humorous performances as a therapist and lawyer, respectively. Parker Posey is completely forged for a third-act flip that’s darkly, deliriously outrageous, and certain to psychologically scar ’90s children who grew up in awe of her. 

Lastly, Patti LuPone stars as Beau’s awaiting mom. And right here I digress to notice that Aster has mentioned Beau Is Afraid was first drafted ten years in the past —earlier than he made Hereditary and Midsommar. In LuPone’s Mona, you may see clear ties to Hereditary’s harried mom and the tortured bond she shares along with her son. However right here, the mom just isn’t the hero or the anti-hero; she is the cruel antagonist.

LuPone, a dwelling legend of the Broadway stage(Opens in a brand new tab) who has outlined diva roles time and again, makes a feast of Mona. She stalks into the room like a grand dame of movie noir, or maybe the sultry witch of an erotic ’80s midnight film. She spits accusations and insults and condemnations with such depth that you simply would possibly really feel compelled to apologize to your individual mom for being a rattling burden. However most thrilling, LuPone is given a monologue that makes Toni Collette’s nerve-shredding “I’m your mom” speech(Opens in a brand new tab) really feel a tad tame. It’s exhilarating to observe this icon sink her tooth into this speech, and it’s completely spine-chilling to take all of it in. 

Beau Is Afraid is a cinematic dare. 

Joaquin Phoenix and Ari Aster are on the set of "Beau is Afraid."

Credit score: Takashi Seida/A24

As he has in his first two movies, Aster has paired highly effective performers with a script that plunges into the surreal and the psychological. His movies really feel like a dare, difficult audiences with visuals of gorgeous our bodies destroyed by self-loathing, audio that creeps underneath your pores and skin, and plot twists that really feel improper but oh, so terribly proper. 

Beau Is Afraid is a problem in that its exploration of terror doesn’t enable you the reprieve sometimes offered in horror. There are not any leap scares to provide the launch of a scream. The movie as a substitute operates on a depraved sense of caprice, propelling its protagonist ahead with out a lot respite, regardless of flights of fantasy. So too are we pushed to the brink, wallowing in uncertainty and nervousness, on the sting of our seats over what would possibly come subsequent. 

In the end, Beau Is Afraid is Ari Aster’s reply to The Truman Present, a movie through which an everyman fears that everybody round him is aware of one thing he doesn’t and is out to get him. Nonetheless, as a substitute of cloaking that horrific state of affairs within the winsomeness of a Fifties sitcom, Aster propels us into trendy landscapes, tweaked to a spot of parody however to not the purpose of unfamiliarity. There are visuals gags, gross and urbane, present in graffiti, band posters, and the promotional artwork exterior a curious strip membership. Within the remaining act, there’s a music cue directly good and completely absurd, which led shock audiences to squeal. That is the world we all know at its very worst…and at its most chaotically enjoyable.

Nonetheless, I can’t promise you’ll take pleasure in Beau is Afraid. I can promise it’ll fuck you up. 

Beau is Afraid opens in NY/LA on April 14, then nationwide on April 21.