The third feature film from writer and director Ari Aster, Beau is Afraid is set to be his most divisive. Starring Joaquin Phoenix as the eponymous Beau, Beau is Afraid weaves a web so eccentric that even the likes of Spike Jonze, Michel Gondry, and John Waters will baulk at its originality, It’s eccentricity will most certainly alienate a portion of the audience, but it is also its Marmite nature that makes it so appealing.
Fans of both Hereditary and Midsommar have been chomping at the bit to see Aster’s third film, but whereas it was easy to see how those two connected, Beau is Afraid is a very different creation. Firstly, Beau is Afraid is not a horror film. There are the occasional elements of the horrific, but the film is more of a surrealist comedy-laced existential crisis drama. Whilst it might not conform to the horror moments of Hereditary and Midsommar, Aster does manage to keep the viewer in a state of discomfort. Beau is Afraid is steeped in anxiety and stress; Aster expertly draws the audience into Beau’s sanity spiral. He does not forget his horror roots entirely and one innocent moment with a spider with have arachnophobes crawling into their seats.
What makes Beau is Afraid hardest to access is that the film has an nontraditional method of story-telling. Rather than spoon-feed the viewer, or tie everything together neatly, Beau is Afraid is far more fluid with its narrative structure. At a base level the plot tells of one man’s quest to see his mother. The journey is so weird and wacky though, finding the deeper aspects of Aster’s story will take full investment from the audience. Seemingly with no true beginning, middle, or end, Beau is Afraid hurtles through its three hour runtime like an ever unfolding waking nightmare. Much as dreams flow into one another with no clear link, Beau moves from one anxiety Hell to the next. Each segment of the film is vastly different to the last; the sensation of dreaming is hard to shake, and is perhaps one of the truest visual conveyances of the dream state.
Whilst those who do not dig further will be left cold by Aster’s latest story, there is no denying his technical abilities. Beau is Afraid is beautifully realised on the screen, every fibre of each frame communicating exactly what Aster wants it to. The production design of the ever changing landscapes is exceptional, the film effortlessly moving from dilapidated dystopia to affluent high-society to ethereal forests and ghastly grotto’s. For a three hour film, the pacing is generally good. There are a few moments where the film feels its length, but otherwise it moves quite freely. The standout of the technical aspects though, is the sound design. There is an ever-present sense of foreboding within the aural architecture, one that marries perfectly with the visuals to push the viewer themselves to the brink. When it isn’t generating ill-feeling, the sound design is assaulting the senses, ensuring that Beau is Afraid traumatises the viewer at every level in spite of it’s lack of typical Aster horror trappings.
A peculiar construction that will test the devotion of even Aster’s most loyal of followers, Beau is Afraid poses an avant-garde piece of cinematic art. A film meant to be analysed and deconstructed rather than simply enjoyed, Beau is Afraid will divide those that watch it. Whichever side upon which you land, there is no denying the mastery of Aster. With Beau is Afraid Aster proves himself to be a true auteur that is more than a one-trick horror horse. An incredible anxiety nightmare birthed onscreen, Beau is Afraid delights in its depravity and glistens with its absurdity, and overall entrances with Asters darkly horrific brand of humour.
Experience the waking nightmare of Beau is Afraid in cinemas across the UK now.