Ari Aster hit the horror scene hard with Hereditary. It was the first horror film in a long time where I was not able to sleep after. His follow-up, Midsommar, was a brilliant Wicker Man tribute full of wicked gallows humor and an ending you have to see to believe. So of course I was excited when he announced a new project,—despite it being a three hour epic.
What audiences may not be ready for is that Beau Is Afraid is not a horror movie, but it still offers plenty of terrifying tidings. Armed with an amazing cast, you’d think it could be the best film of the year. But all we really get is the longest, shiniest, and best acted student film in history. Aster has some mommy issues he’s working out, and if you buy a ticket, you better buckle up for the — literal — long haul.
Beau Wassermann (Joaquin Phoenix) has a lot to work out. Never one to miss his therapy sessions, he lives alone, but is about to head off to visit his mother, Mona (played by both Patti LuPone and Zoe Lister-Jones), for the anniversary of his father’s death. Things go from bad to worse after his apartment keys are stolen, his new medication — which must be taken with water — gets stuck in his throat, and he receives disturbing news that his mother has been decapitated by a falling chandelier. These circumstances send Beau off on the adventure of a lifetime full of all the oddball stops you could think of along the way.
With A24 jumping into the streaming pool with their applauded Beef on Netflix, I can’t help but wonder if Beau Is Afraid may have been better received as a three-part miniseries. Possibly even heralded as a masterpiece. With three definitive acts, it could very easily be cut up into one hour segments. As a three hour epic, it fails to deliver a fulfilling experience. To be fair, there are moments of exceptional filmmaking at hand, and Aster knows how to craft a scene with the best of them. A colleague compared the opening act to the first scene of Babylon and I completely agree: whether you like what you’re getting fed, you have to admire the craftsmanship.
Beau Is Afraid may be filled with amazing performances, and direction, but it never manages to be as scary, funny, or thought provoking as Aster thinks it is. An odyssey is the only true way to describe Beau Is Afraid, however, O’ Brother Where Art, Thou, this is not. The best thing to do if deciding to catch a showing is to just let the film happen. Rarely has an experience been so wildly divisive. I never loved it, but I never hated it. I definitely fall in middle ground here. I admire the ambition, but I doubt I’ll ever retake the journey.