Star Rating:

Beau Is Afraid

Director: Ari Aster

Actors: Joaquin Phoenix, Patti LuPone, Amy Ryan

Release Date: Friday 19th May 2023

Genre(s): Comedy, Drama, Horror

Running time: 178 minutes

Beau Wasserman (Joaquin Phoenix) lives in a crime-ridden, frequently violent part of a major city and suffers from a variety of anxiety disorders and health issues. When his mother (Patti LuPone) dies suddenly, Beau sets out on a surreal journey across the country to reach the funeral, encountering a married couple with a dark secret (Amy Ryan, Nathan Lane), a travelling group of actors in a forest, all while he is hunted by a disturbed lunatic (Dénis Minochet) and his own traumas...

When is a recommendation not necessarily a recommendation? To be clear from the start, 'Beau Is Afraid' is an excellent movie with resoundingly terrific performances from its cast. There's the Oscar winner Joaquin Phoenix, the great Patti LuPone, comedy greats like Richard Kind and Nathan Lane, Amy Ryan turning her affable charm into something sinister, Parker Posey in what is sure to be one of the most talked-about scenes of the year - all of it is mixed together with a dark, profound, terrifying, disturbed tragicomedy about a man racked with guilt but unable to process it. Yet, 'Beau Is Afraid' is the kind of movie that you walk out the other side completely jilted and turned around. If you try to explain it to someone else, or in our case, review and summarise it for others, it begins to sound like you're describing a fucked-up fever dream or you may possibly be having a stroke of some kind. It's also nearly three hours long.

Calling 'Beau Is Afraid' indulgent isn't a fault or a negative. It's supposed to be indulgent because it's about one person who is so wrapped up in himself, so completely hammered by his own problems, that he cannot see his way through to any kind of normality or joy in his life. What's more, the terrors that he encounters are so completely insane that to call them surreal feels like an understatement. They are born of the kind of buried horrors in the back of the human mind that are best left untouched. That it's A24's most expensive movie to date - a modest $34 million, just 10% of the budget of 'Fast X' - and does so much with it is evidence of how ingenious a director Ari Aster is, and the artistic integrity of the assembled cast.

Phoenix is no stranger to playing extreme characters, but in Beau Wasserman, he's more of a character who has extreme things happen to him. There's almost something biblical about him, like a latter-day Jonah. Aster himself described the movie as a 'Jewish Lord of the Rings', and it's a good comparison. Phoenix plays Beau like a hapless hobbit, cowed and frightened before terrifying images. Nathan Lane and Amy Ryan contort their comforting screen presence into disturbing shapes, while Patti LuPone reigns over the first and final act of the movie like a red-haired tyrant with a theatrical, overzealous performance.

Aster overloads the screen and the movie with jokes, references and themes to other works and his own works. There are far too many things going on half the time in the background that distract you from what the main characters are doing, and frequently some of the most terrifying moments happen in the middle of a comedic sequence. If you get up out of your seat in the middle of it, chances are you'll arrive back in the middle of something else entirely with no real throughline to latch onto. 'Beau Is Afraid' has the feeling of a nightmare. It picks up and drops off in different places, frequently taking sharp turns in and out of humour and horror, and when you come out of the other side of it, you're not entirely sure of what you just experienced.