Back in 2019 while I was watching Midsommar at the theatres, someone not far down the aisle from me spent the majority of the movie scream-whispering at her seatmate, repeatedly asking questions like, “What the fuck is going on!? Why would you bring me to this?!” Now, that kind of thing would normally annoy most people. Still, it felt oddly befitting for Ari Aster’s gross, disturbing, and weirdly funny horror movie, which helps cut the tension and adds to the peculiarness of the experience.
Considering Aster’s follow-up, one can only imagine what she would think of Beau Is Afraid, a film that’s comparatively less scary but also significantly more bizarre and primed for psychoanalysis. With maximum absurdity and a wildly surreal fever dream, Beau Is Afraid feels like you’re being pinned down by a sleep paralysis demon whilst simultaneously crouching on your chest and screaming dick jokes at you.
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Beginning with Beau (Joaquin Phoenix) stuck inside his apartment while a pandemic erupts outside, Beau Is Scared somewhat starts off as a pandemic parable. A post-apocalyptic scenario that accurately captures the agoraphobia and health-related panic of recent years, includes a naked man stabbing people, street vendors selling AR-15s, dead people laying in the middle of the street, and bystanders laughing while recording a random person committing suicide. Every scene is crammed with ludicrous details, from the witty food packaging to the obscene sentences being promoted on the sex store downstairs.
The simplest of tasks seem to take an eternity to complete: a phone conversation of Beau with his mom is full of harrowing pauses and miscommunications, a trip to the mart across the street for a bottle of water is problematic, evoking the cerebral frustrations of Brazil and the perception-twisting inclinations of Charlie Kauffman.
The three-hour long movie careens through a lot of distinct scenes that are connected by dream logic, starting out in an odd way and only becoming more peculiar from there. The stream-of-consciousness style plot completely dismantles reality, putting Beau in unfamiliar scenarios with little to no understanding of exactly how he got there.
It’s a collection of haphazardly connected stories, but ultimately a theme does come to surface, portraying a broad framework that clarifies some of the film’s hazy scenes and calling back to concepts addressed in Aster’s 2018 directorial premiere Hereditary. After two critically acclaimed releases, Aster has produced a vulgar and grotesque cinematic universe that is blatantly repulsive, with prolonged scenes that serve little purpose to the plot but is effectively immersive for viewers in this mucked up version of reality. Needless to say, it’s the work of a renowned filmmaker working with utmost confidence.
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Beau is Fraid encompasses a variety of genres and tones, but at the end of the day it’s ultimately a comedy, a downright dark one, wherein even the most serious scenes suddenly take a sharp turn towards slapstick sex jokes. It is quite amazing to note that while making a comedy, Aster has managed to create something much more debauched and distrubing than his horror films in the past.
Catch this gross, disturbing and weirdly hilarious horror movie in theaters (ten days from now) on April 21st.