The Big Picture – ‘Beau is Afraid’

Ari Aster’s anxious epic is confusing, eye-opening


Graphic created in Canva by Elena Burgé and Gavin S. Hudson. Movie posters courtesy of A24.

Gavin Hudson

Disclaimer: Light spoilers for the film are included in this review.

From the mind of Ari Aster, known for recent horror classics “Hereditary” and “Midsommar,” comes “Beau is Afraid,” a three-hour-long tale of anxiety starring Joaquin Phoenix as mentally-unwell Beau.

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Beau’s life reflects the lives of many struggling with mental health: his cries for help fall on deaf ears as he’s pressured to meet everyone else’s expectations. The movie will be jarring for most, but those willing to endure the chaos will experience a bizarre perspective on the mental health crisis in the U.S. 

Aster’s worked on the film since 2010, so it’s fitting his direction is the strongest aspect. His horror background lends itself to creating a familiar feeling of tension and anxiety found in his other films. 

The difference here is the absurdity of some sequences bring a much-needed balance to the stress caused by the film. Although, some audience goers will remain confused as to whether they are supposed to laugh. 

Phoenix, an odd-duck in the public spotlight, weaves through panic and guilt in his performance as Beau. Aster’s direction enhances it throughout the many insane scenarios Beau finds himself in. 

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Following a stabbing and a car accident, Beau, played by Joaquin Phoenix, finds himself in the room of a teenage girl in a house he’s never seen before. (Image courtesy of A24 via IMDB)

The animation that peppers the play in the forest is a gorgeous visual addition to a film seemingly looking to provide a different perspective. The color and set design throughout the sequence stands out as the best sequence in the movie. 

The “plot,” if it can even be called that, will be the most divisive aspect for audiences: a continuous string of mishaps stacking crazier things to be remembered later. Best summarized as a three-hour panic attack, viewers should expect confusion during and after their first viewing. 

“Beau is Afraid” is the latest in a recent trend of three-hour films (“RRR,” “Avatar: The Way of Water,” “Babylon”) and, like many films of a similar length, it’s too long. 

While the argument can be made that the film’s length can be attributed to necessary world-building, the conclusion feels like a distant detail that can’t arrive soon enough. At least 30 minutes of the film could’ve been shaved off from various segments that overstay their welcome. 

“Beau is Afraid” is a societal statement with too much to say and even more to be discussed. Ari Aster’s three-hour anxiety-inducing epic earns an 8/10.