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‘Beau Is Afraid,’ and So Are We After Watching the Trailer for Ari Aster’s New Film

Joaquin Phoenix as the title character in 'Beau Is Not Afraid'

Beau is afraid, but we are confused and maybe a little terrified. The first official trailer for Beau Is Afraid, Ari Aster’s latest film for arthouse distributor A24, has left audiences both excited and befuddled. And if Aster’s previous films—Hereditary and Midsommar—are any indication, then this trailer is probably just the tip of the iceberg. Here’s everything we know so far about Aster’s latest film. 

What is Beau Is Afraid about?

Aris Aster and A24 have been keeping Beau Is Afraid’s storyline tightly under wraps, and its first trailer virtually gives nothing away. Joaquin Phoenix plays the pleasant but anxious Beau, who goes on a trip to see his mother. Along the way, he encounters a strange series of supernatural events showcased via trippy visuals in the film’s brief two-minute preview.

A24 has also since released an official synopsis, although I’m pretty sure it just leaves you with more questions. It reads: “A paranoid man embarks on an epic odyssey to get home to his mother in this bold and ingeniously depraved new film from writer/director Ari Aster.”

Beau‘s background

Previously titled Disappointment Blvd., the film was first announced back in February 2021 and is actually based on Aster’s 2011 short film, simply titled Beau. In the six-minute film, Beau is a middle-aged man who has to travel home following the sudden death of his beloved but equally neurotic mother. During the trip—as also seen in the trailer for Beau Is Afraid—the titular character, played by the late Billy Mayo, also stares down the face of several supernatural threats and learns a secret involving his estranged father. 

Discussing Film reports that Beau Is Afraid has been described by many as “a surrealist horror film set in an alternate present.” In an earlier interview with the Associated Students Program Board at UC Santa Barbara, Aster described Beau Is Afraid as a “nightmare comedy” and revealed that based on the draft he’d just completed, he expected the movie to be at least four hours long. (It will likely be much shorter by the time it hits theaters.)

The cast

As previously mentioned, Joaquin Phoenix headlines the film as the titular Beau. The acclaimed actor, who received an Oscar for his portrayal of Arthur Fleck in Todd Phillips’ Joker, is also slated to appear in the follow-up, Joker: Folie a Deux, and Ridley Scott’s Napoleon. In Beau Is Afraid, Phoenix is expected to appear as Beau at multiple points in his life, so we may expect to see him aged and de-aged throughout the movie. It has also been confirmed that Armen Nahapetian will play a younger version of Beau—that’s him on the first poster, looking like a thoroughly de-aged Phoenix. 

Joining Phoenix are Nathan Lane (Only Murders in the Building), Stephen McKinley Henderson (New Amsterdam), Patti LuPone (The School for Good and Evil), Amy Ryan (Lost Girls), Kylie Rogers (Miracles From Heaven), Denis Ménochet (The Beasts), Haley Squires (True Things), Michael Gandolfini (The Many Saints of Newark), Zoe Lister-Jones (How It Ends), Richard Kind (Inside Out), and Parker Posey (Dazed and Confused).

The production

In addition to writing and directing, Aster serves as a producer on Beau Is Afraid. The rising genre auteur is joined by cinematographer Pawel Pogorzelski and editor Lucian Johnston, both of whom also worked on Aster’s two previous films: Hereditary and Midsommar

Although he doesn’t think of Beau Is Afraid as a horror film, Aster has often discussed his love of the genre. In a recent interview, the filmmaker said that head trauma will always have a place in his work. Aster has also stated that he does not want to confine himself to the horror genre, sharing in an interview with the San Antonio Current: “I’d love to play in every genre. I love romantic comedies. I love westerns. I love musicals. I love sci-fi. I try to come to everything from a place of character. That’s my way in. Genre filmmaking offers you a structure and a framework. From there, you can play around and find a way to add your signature.” In the same interview, Aster describes drawing inspiration from the “day to day dread” in our lives rather than just going for jump-scares in his films.

In a 2019 interview with The Hollywood Reporter during the press tour for Midsommar, Aster had the opportunity to talk about his influences and why he actually does not identify as a horror film director: “I approach many things with a certain cynicism, and I have a very bleak sense of humor,” he shared. “With these last two films, I did want to take suffering seriously, and for them to have a certain weight. And I definitely try to approach everything from a place of character, though if you go back to my shorts, that wasn’t always true. I sometimes approached things in a more clinical way when I was playing with medium. I don’t have a mission, as you said, but I’m compelled by images and tones.” 

Release date

Production for Beau Is Afraid wrapped in October 2022. The film is set to open in U.S. theaters on April 21, 2023. 

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Danielle is a twenty-something writer and postgrad student based in the Philippines. She loves books, movies, her cat, and traveling. In her spare time, she enjoys shooting 35mm film and going to concerts.