There’s a scene at the start of Beau is Afraid in which the titular character (Joaquin Phoenix) is given new medication by his therapist (Stephen McKinley Henderson). Beau takes the pills “incorrectly”, triggering a panic attack which sets in motion a series of events depicting his deteriorating/fluctuating mental state. It’s a fleeting scene but one that seems to suggests everything forth could be taken with a pinch of dimethyltryptamine. For what unravels is a cerebral cortex swirling sense assault within a world locked in a perpetual Purge film parody, and writer/director Ari Aster utilising post-pandemic paranoia to heighten his action and comedy.

The story starts with the bereft, jittery Beau, a middle aged loner wallowing in paranoia prior to catching a flight to visit his mother, but when his front door key and luggage get stolen Beau is forced to abandon the trip. A brutal street assault leads Beau into the home/care of kind older couple Roger (Nathan Lane) and Grace (Amy Grace) who promise to drive him to his mother once he has healed. Friction with their teenage daughter Toni (Kylie Rogers) and a twitchy ex-soldier pal of their late son threaten Beau’s recovery, propelling him deeper into kaleidoscopic, catatonic bedlam/existential despair, during which he encounters a travelling theatre troupe and burrows back in time via hallucinatory flashbacks then on to a fear facing odyssey.


Ari Aster (Hereditary, Midsommar) is on familiar thematic turf with scared, grieving characters but treads new genre ground as Beau is his first comedy, albeit a massively vantablack one. The three hour duration allows Aster to explore fear and grief in greater depth than, and differently to, his previous films, with the added air and grace of a flight of fancy or stream of consciousness instead of a focused character study. Surreal daydream scenes suggest most of what we see could be in Beau’s mind. When Beau notices defects in his “reality” the scene adjusts to accommodate, while both his journey and Aster’s pallette are at times fevery, Wizard of Oz-like and/or within animated/stage craft sequences.

Aster is one of the most fascinating film-makers working today and creates an awkwardly ethereal screen world, brilliantly blending fantasy and reality to bring Beau to life with his trademark intensity and realism which made Hereditary and Midsommar so terrifying. Whether what is happening to Beau is real or not is irrelevent next to the warped moments that make his life and journey so magical. As a result, Aster’s film feels more like a commentary on the fabric of fiction and how underlying realism can augment the absurd as hardships heighten happiness.

Like Bejamin Button and Barton Fink bickering over cake inside Seth Brundle’s teleporter; Beau is a beautiful, schizophrenic masterpiece: a juddering, picaresque voyage of discovery melding Scorsese’s After Hours, Eyes Wide Shut, Mulholland Drive, Southland Tales, Synecdoche New York and many others into a magnificent cine-soufflé best inhaled by a wide open mind to savour the brain bending mayhem.

Beau is Afraid
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Daniel Goodwin
Daniel Goodwin is a prevalent film writer for multiple websites including HeyUGuys, Scream Horror Magazine, Little White Lies, i-D and Dazed. After studying Film, Media and Cultural Studies at university and Creative Writing at the London School of Journalism, Daniel went on to work in TV production for Hat Trick Productions, So Television and The London Studios. He has also worked at the Home Office, in the private office of Hilary Benn MP and the Coroner's and Burials Department, as well as on the Movies on Pay TV market investigation for the Competition Commission.
beau-is-afraid-reviewBeau is Afraid is is a beautiful, juddering, picaresque voyage of discovery. A magnificent cine-soufflé best inhaled by a wide open mind to better savour the brain bending mayhem.