'Beau is Afraid' is a mess, but in a good way

Joaquin Phoenix in the movie “Beau Is Afraid.” (A24 Films/TNS)

I have repeated this time and time again, but I am a massive fan of horror movies. I did not used to be, but over the last couple of years, I have seen more horror movies than I have of any film in any other genre. My favorite kind of horror is often the incredibly gory, à la the “Evil Dead” franchise.

As I have gotten more and more into horror, I have begun to appreciate those horror films that are more psychological or surreal. For example, I really liked “Infinity Pool” and “Knock at the Cabin,” even though they did not feature any notable uses of gore.

In the past couple of months, I began to watch the films created by director Ari Aster. The works he has created are infamous for how bone-chilling and psychological they can be. Both “Midsommar” and “Hereditary” are masterpieces of horror in my eyes, and many agree with me.

Some disagree with that sentiment though. Some consider his films to be slow and even boring. I have even seen people say that “Hereditary” is too predictable, though I honestly do not understand that viewpoint. As I said, I thoroughly enjoy Aster’s films, so I was incredibly excited for his new film “Beau is Afraid.”

People’s reviews had come out about the film early. I had seen people say they thought this film was a career killer and I had seen others say the movie is the best thing Aster has made. This honestly excited me, the fact that the reactions to this film are so strong only really implied good things to me. I was either going to be able to experience either the worst or best film of the year.

I had the chance to see it, and I am incredibly impressed. I loved the film. It is an extremely divisive and surreal masterpiece of filmmaking. Every single second of what you see on the screen feels that it is important, no matter how small, even the branding of a water bottle holds significance.

While the film is a three-hour surrealist horror-comedy, it is more akin to an epic straight out of the “Lord of the Rings” franchise. Unlike “Lord of the Rings” though, you do not come out feeling triumphant. Like the titular character, you come out of this film feeling incredibly anxious and afraid.

The film truly puts you into the shoes of an anxiety-ridden man-child with crippling mommy issues. You begin to care for this character every time he is put through the wringer and want this poor guy to catch a break. Even though you want to see him succeed, you cannot help but laugh every single time something terrible happens to him.

You can see how much Aster and the rest of the crew care about this film. You can see that Aster had pretty much free reign of the project, outside of the influence of those working directly on the movie with him. The best way to explain this film is that it is not made for a wider audience. It is made for Aster. So, if you do not like it, that’s okay! It might just not be your thing.