Throughout my life, I have seen many films that I thought were disturbing. At the tender age of 15, someone brought a copy of The Exorcist to watch at at my Halloween party. I made it to the crucifix scene, when I felt a need to step outside for some air. For weeks, I thought every creek and crack of the house was a demon coming to swallow my soul.
More recently, I watch the two movies in The Terrorfier series. While those movies had some parts that made my toes curl (the extremely graphic murder scenes), overall, the movies subsided from that level of exploitation for the remainder of their runtimes. There are others, but these two stuck out the most to me, as they were pure-and-simple horror films that packed a punch. And I do love my horror films.
If you want to take a trip to another genre, the 1971 classic, A Clockwork Orange, is probably the movie that scared me the most. Stanley Kubrick was his generation’s greatest director, when it came to getting a rise out of the audience. The film had some of the most shocking, violent scenes ever put into film, and I remember them vividly (for the sake of decency, I will not spell them out. If you know… you know). The main character, Alex, goes from being a sadistic monster to a shell of a man, unable to even defend himself without becoming incredibly nauseated.
The physiological experiments conducted on him were just as barbaric as his actions and showed clearly what can happen when someone is mentally broken down to the point where their own free will is removed. This movie may be older than me, but it still is haunting and troubling.
While those movies are disturbing, I am now at a point where I have to add another one to the list. In fact, this movie is probably the most deranged of them all.
Beau Is Afraid releases to theaters this weekend. Knowing that it comes from the mind of Writer-Director Ari Aster, the man behind Hereditary and Midsommar, is simply not enough to prepare one for what they are going to experience. The film follows Beau Wasserman (Joaquin Phoenix), the son of a famous businesswoman (Patti LuPone). Beau’s perception of the world is incredibly unsettling, with murders taking place outside his apartment, crazy people keeping him up all night, and everyone he interacts with is very rude and violent.
But when he misses the plane to see his mother on her birthday, his life becomes even more chaotic. He begins a terrifying journey on his own, facing every fear he has ever experienced in his life. The main question remains: Is this all in his head, or is it real?
I walked out of the theater with my date completely unsettled. We looked at each other like, “What did we just watch?”
Beau Is Afraid is listed as a surrealist black comedy horror film, but the word, “horror,” should be prefaced with “psychological.” The movie is made to put you directly into the mind of Beau. It is clear he has some mental issues that are never given a name, with my best guess being schizophrenia as one of his ailments. Aster does this audience placement brilliantly, making for very awkward moments in the theater.
There are moments where part of my audience would laugh at something, while others looked disgusted. Other times, the images on the screen did not match the tone of voice the actors were using, shouting when things looked calm and quiet, when there should have been more vocal intensity. There is so much crammed into the three-hour runtime that I was mentally spent by the end.
That feeling generated during the movie didn’t even stop as expected. The conclusion is awkward, as the movie just ends. No fade to black. No end-credit music. Just utter silence with the camera focused directly on the final scene. I, and a few others, got up to leave, but it was weird, as a lot of people were still in their seats. The silence was deafening.
It actually made us feel like we were interrupting something. Was this the end or was there more? It just made us feel on edge. I felt like I was holding my breath the whole time, and only took a gasp once we were back in the real world of the theater lobby. No movie before has made me feel that sense of panic and anxiety.
Beau Is Afraid is a very divisive film. On one hand, Ari Aster delivers probably his best work yet, playing on the emotions of the audience like a New York Philharmonic conductor. On the other hand, the level of agitation the movie instills in viewers can be very off-putting, especially for someone not prepared or familiar with Aster’s work.
Thus, I have to give Beau Is Afraid two scores. For fans of psychological horror films, this film gets five out of five stars — it is simply a must-see. For everyone else, I would give it one out of five stars, as those not ready for this type of film will probably walk out. Every actor in this distressing tale plays their parts to perfection.
Beau Is Afraid is a three-hour schizophrenic episode with a side of panic attacks. Believe me when I say, “Viewer discretion is advised.”