Beau is Afraid
Stars: Joaquin Phoenix, Stephen McKinley Henderson, Nathan Lane, Amy Ryan, Denis Ménochet
Ari Aster’s follow-up to Scandinavian horror ‘Midsommar’ is an equally bold and unwieldy three-hour road movie meets pitch black horror comedy meets oedipal study, featuring a commendably fearless performance from Joaquin Phoenix.
He is Beau Wasserman, a middle-aged, perennially anxious man living in the crime-ridden town of Corrina, where seemingly every errand outside turns into a race for survival. His blithe therapist (Henderson) recommends an experimental drug for Beau’s anxiety which he stresses must be taken with water. Cue an early dizzying and disorientating sequence, impressively rendered by DP Pawel Pogorzelski, where Beau must leave his apartment during a water outage after downing his medication.
Beau is planning a visit his fearsome wealthy mother Mona but his efforts are confounded by circumstances. A street accident sees Beau left in the care of overly kindly couple surgeon Roger (Lane) and his wife Grace (Ryan). This proves not quite the needed respite though, due to the looming presence of feral war veteran Jeeves (French actor Ménochet). Recovered, Beau resumes his journey, but, in a sequence that recalls Charlie Kaufman’s ‘Synecdoche’, New York’, he is temporarily waylaid in a magical wood where he encounters a troupe of actors named The Orphans of the Forest who invite him to take part in one of their productions and the barrier between reality and fiction begins to blur. Events also cause Beau to dwell on his first boyhood romance when he meets a girl on a cruise holiday with his mother.
It's overlong, dense and undoubtedly self-indulgent, particularly in the unappealingly lurid third act, but the visuals and sound design are immaculate, particularly in the Corrina scenes, ensuring a wholly immersive and nightmarish experience, and Joaquin Phoenix’s vanity-free performance is typically go-for-broke.
Beau is Afraid is released on 19th May
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