By Mark Fields

Writer-director-eccentric millennial auteur Ari Aster has only made three feature length films. The first two – Hereditary and Midsommar – both have cult followings. They are popular for their unconventional narratives and graphic depictions of horror amplified by the characters’ emotional turmoil. Beau is Afraid, his latest film, defies any easy description or even characterization, but it too features a similar disjointed, overly caffeinated vibe. Aster has said that his movies are intended to be experienced viscerally rather than logically; and that’s good, because Beau is Afraid is exceedingly strange, bordering on the inscrutable. Joaquin Phoenix – himself no stranger to gonzo film stories – plays Beau, a stunted man-child suffering from a crippling personal paralysis. He is afraid of the world, though perhaps with good reason, because the world Beau inhabits in this film seems intent on torturing him emotionally and even physically. Phoenix, as well as the supporting cast that includes Nathan Lane, Amy Ryan, and Patti Lupone, deserve kudos for committing to the strangeness. Although there are moments of interest in Aster’s story, I found myself more perplexed than anything else. Days after, that feeling still lingers. Beau is Afraid feels to me like the cinematic equivalent of kombucha; true fans rave about it while others find its appeal a mystery.

Mark Fields
Mark Fields has reviewed movies for Out & About since October 2008. In addition, he has written O&A profiles of documentarian Harry Shearer and actress Aubrey Plaza. Over the years, Mark also has written on film for several publications in Pennsylvania, Michigan, and his home state of Indiana, where he also served as on-air movie critic for Indianapolis’s public radio station. Mark was an adjunct instructor of film history at Rowan University from 1998 to 2018. A career arts administrator, he retired in fall 2021 after 16 years as an executive at Wilmington’s Grand Opera House. Mark now leads bike tours part-time and is working on a screenplay. He lives in Trolley Square with his partner Wendy. Mark spent the fastest 22 minutes of his life as an unsuccessful contestant on Jeopardy…sadly, there were no movie questions.