Beau Is Afraid is an train in laughing to maintain from screaming

Beau Is Afraid, A24’s latest movie from director Ari Aster, is each a darkish comedy and a surreal, oedipal drama that feels prefer it won’t exist had been it not for a way widespread it’s turn out to be for TV reveals and movies to inform tales about folks dwelling with the sort of nervousness that makes it arduous to perform. By means of its good route and imaginative set design, Beau Is Afraid’s in a position to inform an arresting story that makes you’re feeling fairly keenly how horrific dwelling in a perpetual state of struggle or flight might be.

However not like many different current on-screen depictions of tension issues — The Fabelmans, Puss in Boots: The Final Want, and HBO Max’s Velma all come to thoughts — Beau Is Afraid isn’t in any respect occupied with making them appear manageable or like obstacles one merely overcomes via the facility of affection and standard filmmaking.

Set in a actuality not not like our personal the place large cities are held up as examples of how society’s collapsing, Beau Is Afraid is an account of the lifetime of Beau Wassermann (Joaquin Phoenix), a skittish, deeply neurotic man who struggles to deal with an unspecified nervousness order. For Beau, every day is a brand new alternative to marvel at and cower in concern of the skin world from the protection of his small residence — the one place that feels actually secure to him. Although Beau is aware of that different folks haven’t any hassle leaving their houses and main productive lives, each time he probabilities a look outdoors his window, all he can see are Mad Max-like scenes of apocalyptic anarchy, and it’s sufficient to persuade him to remain inside.

How a lot of the horror Beau witnesses — streets filled with violent, deranged folks killing each other and typically waving their genitals round for enjoyable — is definitely actual versus all of it being the waking nightmare of a disturbed man is a query Beau Is Afraid poses early on. Somewhat than ever offering a definitive reply, Beau Is Afraid retains open the potential for its heightened actuality all being a sort of fantasy, or at the least a group of Beau’s paranoid delusions breathtakingly realized by the movie’s background forged and manufacturing design from Fiona Crombie. 

Phoenix performs Beau comparatively straight and like a person who’s actually simply making an attempt to thoughts his personal enterprise. However every thing concerning the world round Beau — from the expletive-ridden storefront indicators to the go-go dancers grooving in entrance of his residence constructing — creates a annoying and uneasy environment that makes it simple to know why he’s afraid so usually, even when the hazard may simply be in his head.

Lots of the issues that scare Beau could also be imaginary, however there’s by no means any doubt about how actual and ever-present in his life Beau’s passive-aggressive mom Mona (Patti Lupone) is, regardless of her dwelling throughout the nation and being largely unseen in Beau Is Afraid when the movie’s centered on the current. Much more than strangers on the road or information stories of there being a knife-wielding assassin on the free, Mona — a self-made entrepreneur who constructed her enterprise empire as a younger single mom (performed in flashbacks by Zoe Lister-Jones) — fills Beau with a crippling nervousness he solely feels comfy speaking about together with his unnamed therapist (Stephen McKinley Henderson). 

By means of their classes, Beau’s therapist has gotten him to some extent the place he’s at the least in a position to talk about the disturbing, traumatic goals about being born that start to plague him within the buildup to Beau embarking on a visit to see his mom. However all of that progress (after which some) comes crashing down when, on the day Beau’s meant to catch his flight, each his home keys and his baggage mysteriously vanish simply as he’s about to go away — an inexplicable flip of occasions that’s just the start of Beau being pressured nicely outdoors of his consolation zone.

Very like Aster’s 2011 quick Beau starring Billy Mayo as a nervous man being terrorized over the cellphone by a key-collecting demon, there’s a marked simplicity to Beau Is Afraid’s story regardless of all of the fantastical turns it takes as Beau units out to get to his mother’s home. All Beau actually needs is a experience to the airport and to really feel like he’s not disappointing Mona but once more the best way he always did as a skittish teen (portrayed by Armen Nahapetian). However the complicated feelings underpinning these needs — fears of his unlocked residence being invaded, or that he’ll be murdered, or that no lady will ever love him like Mona — give Beau Is Afraid a frantic sense of urgency that makes every thing concerning the movie really feel like an nearly The Cell-esque deep dive into one man’s psychological neuroses.

As intermittently darkish, twisted, and grotesque because the film turns into, it’s additionally Aster’s most comedic mission thus far within the sense that it’s generously peppered with moments meant to chop via at the least a number of the dread that comes with being so in Beau’s head. However even with its levity and feeling like a shift away from the extra horror-focused mode audiences might know Aster for, Beau Is Afraid focuses on lots of the similar themes current in Aster’s earlier works, like Munchausen and The Strange Thing About the Johnsons, which makes the movie play like a sharpened growth on concepts that appear to hang-out him.

Beau Is Afraid is so distinct from Aster’s different movies and ends on such a bewildering notice that it’s greater than prone to throw fairly just a few folks for loops they aren’t anticipating. However even because it’s spiraling in its last moments, and elevating extra questions than it ever feels occupied with answering, there’s a mesmerizing, fascinating high quality to all of it that makes it arduous to not get drawn into the strangeness of Aster’s imaginative and prescient.

Beau Is Afraid additionally stars Amy Ryan, Nathan Lane, Kylie Rogers, Denis Ménochet, Parker Posey, Julia Antonelli, Richard Sort, Hayley Squires, and Michael Gandolfini. The film hits theaters on April twenty first.