Horror? Comedy? Psycho-drama? Trying to categorise Beau is Afraid is quite a challenge. Directed by Ari Aster, this intriguing and often disturbing new release has a bit – actually rather a lot – of everything, making it not only hard to define but also entirely compelling to watch. It centres around an anxiety-ridden man (Joaquin Phoenix) who, following the death of his mother, embarks on a Kafkaesque odyssey to try and conquer his darkest fears.
Beau is Afraid arrives at Cineworld cinemas on Friday (May 19). But what do you need to know about this extraordinary new movie? Here, we round up some of the most interesting facts...
It was made by one of the best directors around
One of the reasons Beau is Afraid is so hotly anticipated is because it was directed by Ari Aster, whose previous outings – the independent horror films Hereditary (2018) and Midsommar (2019) – were both universally acclaimed. Despite his reputation, Aster still had to pitch the idea for his third film before it was given the go-ahead. "How did I sell it? I don't know," he told CNN. "I think at one point I said it's like a video game, if your character can't do anything and none of the buttons work."
Joaquin Phoenix performed most of his own stunts
The film's lead actor is renowned for putting his heart and soul into his roles – and for Beau is Afraid he insisted on performing most of the stunts himself. These included falling out of an attic, jumping through glass and thrashing around in a bathtub. “As an actor, he wants to embody the character as much as he can, wherever he can,” Ari Aster told the New York Times. “Joaquin doesn’t have any vanity — he puts all of himself into the part.”
Phoenix also did a lot of screaming on the set
The aforementioned bathtub scene is one of the most harrowing in the film, with Beau being confronted by one of his life-long demons. Needless to say, prior to filming, Phoenix made sure he was fully invested in the character's psychological pain. He told NME.com: “I just started screaming, just the most intense, guttural pain scream that I could before we were shooting, sitting there, because I had to just fully humiliate myself. And then just go like, OK, well, once that’s happened, you can’t look any more stupid than you do now."
The film's CGI effects are amazing
From frozen human figures to monsters in the attic, Beau is Afraid is peppered with special effects – and stunning they are, too. But for Ari Aster, the most challenging to pull off was the CGI stadium that features at the end of the movie. He told Mashable.com: "That was a big, huge learning curve there. And that took a long, long, long, long time to get right. Longer than anything I've ever worked on. So that was the hardest thing."
It has a stellar cast
Phoenix is, of course, the headline act here, but he's supported by a brilliant cast that includes theatre legend Patti LuPone as Beau's mother, Mona; Gone Baby Gone actress Amy Ryan, Nathan Lane (probably best known for his role in TV's Only Murders in the Building), French actor Denis Ménochet (Inglourious Basterds) and teenage star Kylie Rogers (Miracles from Heaven).
It's been described as "gobsmacking"
Beau is Afraid has received plenty of positive reviews, but one of the most memorable came from Nick Allen at RogerEbert.com. He wrote: "Did you ever hear the one about the boy who feared his mother? 'Beau is Afraid' tells this joke for three gobsmacking, sometimes exhausting, always beguiling hours.