Movie Review: Beau is Afraid (2023)

If you’re hankering for that sensation of having your head smashed with a mallet for three hours, this is your film. Director Ari Aster parlays his skills at horror moviemaking into an absurdist examination of trauma in the bloated, tonally challenged folly of Beau is Afraid (D). What starts out promising wears out its welcome quickly as the mawkish title character played with commitment by Joaquin Phoenix endeavors against great madcap odds to visit his controlling mom, portrayed briefly with campy relish by Broadway legend Patti LuPone. There’s no denying Aster’s mastery of the camera, and he orchestrates occasionally clever and sometimes whimsical sequences illustrating the video game style obstacles thwarting the protagonist’s mental health – but the shrill outweighs the droll in his prolonged one-note allegory. A handful of delirious dark comic laughs can’t fully compensate for the extended and sometimes pretentious march into the mental abyss. Whatever thesis statement Aster is trying to present about the peculiar familial relationship afoot in this tale is buried in distracting artifice. It’s a disappointing miss, cynical and nightmarish without proper payoff to its downhill slide.

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