Few movies have the ability to shock, and even fewer have the ability to scar.
In a cinematic landscape where seemingly anything can be created out of thin air, where computer-generated effects dominate the box office and audiences feel like they have seen it all, a film like “Beau Is Afraid” is a breath of fresh air.
In equal measure, the film —director Ari Aster’s follow-up to the success of his films “Hereditary” and “Midsommar”— will leave you gasping for air over the course of its ambitious three-hour runtime.
In a cinematic landscape ridden with predictable narratives, the sheer bizarreness of “Beau Is Afraid” should not go unnoticed, as the film has completely split audiences down the middle; the opposing camps of “masterpiece” versus “disasterpiece” are battling through the #filmtwitter discourse as we speak.
Aster himself does not seem particularly interested in whether you hate his film or not. In fact, truly loathsome reactions seem to read as an atypical badge of honor.
An audience member three rows behind me even went so far as to yell “Don’t clap!” in retaliation to my slow applause at the closing credits.
Needless to say, it is one of the most exciting films in a long time.
Joaquin Phoenix stars as the titular Beau in an incredibly committed performance that rivals his very best work. He channels the moodiness of his work in films like “Two Lovers” and “Her” with the broad, near-slapstick nature of his performance in “The Master” to form a completely original and complex character, trapped in a self-imposed glass case of emotion.
As Beau attempts to visit his lovingly oppressive mother, the world seemingly wants otherwise, resulting in an absurdist nightmare comedy that truly rocked me to my core. It left me laughing, crying and utterly disgusted at Aster’s uncompromising approach.
Aster has A24 to thank for providing him with the studio’s largest budget yet —$35 million a cinematic gamble that seldom passes by in the confines of modern Hollywood.
If “Hereditary” and “Midsommar” were sister films, “Beau Is Afraid” is the excommunicated cousin: an unholy, blank-check creation so formalistically, dramaturgically obtuse, yet rooted in such a nakedly personal core that it truly must be seen to be believed.
It is a deep-seated excavation that slowly and painfully fuses into a biting and cruel provocation, emphasizing the elevating and damaging effects of codependency and the ties that bind (or the ties that blind). Freud would have a field day with this one.
The moment-to-moment exigence of this picaresque odyssey buoys from paranoid set piece to anxious fugue state with a perversely charged handshake between utter verve and devastation that left me equally high on its own supply.
It is easily one of the best films of the year so far.
“Beau Is Afraid” is playing in theaters nationwide.