Published May 8, 2023
BY FLINT NACHBAR
Horror director Ari Aster’s third film’s title, “Beau is Afraid,” could not be more appropriate as Beau (Joaquin Phoenix) is in fact afraid for the entire duration of the movie.
Throughout the run time, Beau is mentally and physically tortured, and he can just never catch a break. The never-ending torment that Pheniox’s character faces increasingly becomes harder and harder to watch, as what starts as a promising horror movie slowly turns into trauma porn. (The film is rated R and contains graphic violence, nudity, sexual content, as well as drug abuse.)
Phoenix portrays a character so driven by fear and anxiety that he almost seems to wander through life, only speaking when provoked and only reacting to his surroundings when there is no other option left. Despite playing a character who only portrays one emotion, Phoenix is able to bring a lot of range and depth to a limited character.
From the first scene, Aster paints a surreal world where everything is out to get Beau, from the brown recluse spiders dwelling in his run-down apartment complex to the naked homeless man that lurks on the street waiting to stab him as soon as he leaves this building.
Beau lives in a world where all the unpleasant and evil things about society are dialed up to an extreme, which creates a lawless backdrop that is over-the-top and horrific. It almost feels like a parody of the current state of the world.
The movie’s plot is fairly simple, as it follows Beau and his journey to get home to his overbearing mother, Mona (Patti Lupone). This kicks off a twisted adventure that feels more like an odyssey, with a three-hour run time broken up into four acts, each representing Beau’s different fears. The increasing paranoia and anxiousness that the main character feels carries over to the audience, with each disturbing scene making it harder and harder to decide whether it’s more appropriate to laugh, scream or vomit into an eight-dollar bucket of popcorn.
To contrast the horrors on screen, Aster teams up with cinematographer Pawel Pogorzelski, who creates vibrant and colorful visuals that are stunning to watch, but the beauty of the film is not enough to save it.
Unfortunately, “Beau is Afraid” feels like sprinting a marathon and never gives the audience a chance to breathe, and by the end of its extensive run time, you’ll be more focused on not suffocating than actually enjoying the film.