Beau is Afraid
By Smaranda Mihăilă & Moorle Slager
I walked into the cinema to see the premiere of Beau is Afraid with little to no information about it, except that it featured Joaquin Phoenix and that it was directed by Ari Aster. Thus, my mind and expectations immediately went to Midsommar, one of the films I am not yet sure to this day if I enjoyed beyond the cinematography, but one that definitely had an impact on me.
After seeing Aster’s new release, I was left with the same overarching feeling. Despite what I believed was a compelling performance from Joaquin Phoenix and a deep dive into his character’s psychic and darkest fears, the film’s message did not quite land for me. The plot follows the main character’s internal torment and despair as he embarks on a twisted journey to go back home to his mother. His journey is driven forward by his incapability and fear of making decisions which leads him to what I could only describe as a series of disturbing encounters, only some of which made sense to me. Visually, the film is beautiful and I was entertained while watching it. The lighting, camerawork, and set design perfectly transpose the character’s internal world filled with deprivation in his surroundings and on screen, and, I can definitely say that the first half hour of the film was amazing from this point of view (and was also my favourite bit). However, besides the fact that the film is visually beautiful, its meaning gets lost in the never-ending stream of disturbing events and encounters. Even if Aster’s purpose was to overwhelm the audience in the same manner as he did with his main character, some of it felt like too much for no reason and did not add anything to the story.
Nevertheless, Beau is Afraid definitely made an impression on me and left me thinking about it for quite a while after leaving the theater. Thus, I strongly recommend everyone interested to go watch it and form their own opinion about the film.
“I’m sorry. Thank you. I’m sorry.”
Maybe I just didn’t get it. Don’t get me wrong, the cinematography was astounding and the indirect camerawork - albeit a bit overdone - kept me satisfied with every shot. Not a second went by that I wasn’t fully intrigued by what was going on on the screen. But that doesn’t take away from the fact that I left the theatre not only utterly confused, but almost annoyed that Aster pulled something like this again. I really hoped the third time would be the charm - I didn’t like Midsommar and I hated Hereditary, both in spite of their astonishing cinematography, especially the former.
But Beau’ story, especially the logic and reason behind it, was undetectable. One may argue some things don’t need a reason - they just are. But this is my review, and I do not like that. I’m all for weird, almost inexplicable choices in a movie, as long as they are at least somewhat justified. But no matter how hard I dig, I just can’t find a reason for there to be a - spoiler! - monster cock in the attic, which I guess is supposed to be Beau’s dad? The first half of the movie was a beautiful representation of anxiety, and an interesting case of anything that can go wrong, will go wrong. The second half was a mess, filled with whiplashes and plot twists that were supposed to be riveting, I guess, but just made me roll my eyes, either out of absurdity or blatant predictability. The movie had some really nice, even funny moments, and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t laugh out loud more than once (your head wound is fine, “trust me, my father bled to death”). But the latter half just soured the experience for me. Beau is Afraid? A little, but above all, Beau is disappointed.
This review was written for the exclusive preview held on April 19th, 2023 in the Ketelhuis in Amsterdam. A special thank you to Pauline Verhoeven and Triple P Entertainment who made this possible.