Beau Is Afraid Trailer Breakdown: We're Not Sure What's Happening But We're Scared Anyway

All eyes have been fixed on what horror filmmaker Ari Aster might have up his sleeve with "Beau is Afraid," the director's highly anticipated third film that was previously known under the title of "Disappointment Blvd." Even if Aster hadn't set the bar astronomically high with his first two directorial efforts, "Hereditary" and "Midsommar," going so far as to describe the upcoming project as a four-hour long "nightmare comedy" certainly will do the trick. Adding an actor of Joaquin Phoenix's caliber into the mix will always draw attention, for sure, but so too does the added wrinkle of having him portray the eponymous Beau at various different stages of his life. If you're sensing a trend here, it's the idea that there is simply no such thing as "too far" when it comes to an Ari Aster film.

As we saw for ourselves, the recently released trailer for "Beau is Afraid" quite easily proves the truth of those words.

In fact, the footage boasts so much off-the-wall madness that we here at /Film decided that this latest A24 film simply demands the same treatment that is usually afforded to the biggest superhero blockbusters. Frankly, there's a lot going on in this Phoenix/Aster team-up that feels like an unholy union between "The Truman Show" and any given Charlie Kaufman film — and it more than merits an obsessive breakdown of its own. So sit back, relax, and join us on this journey down the rabbit hole as we attempt to figure out just what kind of nightmarish entertainment Aster has in store for us this time around.

Sins of the father?

The trailer opens on an old and aged Joaquin Phoenix who has certainly seen better days. Reclining in what looks like a weird cross between a car seat and a wheelchair on a cruise ship, old Beau fixes his gaze on another startling figure looking right back at him: himself. Or, rather, a version of himself at a much, much younger age. While the prevailing narrative has been that the teen Beau is also played by a digitally de-aged Phoenix, perhaps providing an instance where the uncanny valley of the relatively new tech would seem to work in the film's favor (as the inherent unreality of the premise feels like the entire point), I'm afraid I have to ruin the fun by pointing out that the character is simply played by an incredible Phoenix lookalike named Armen Nahapetian. Unless that's just what they want us to think, of course.

While we're wrapping our heads around this, we hear Beau's mother ominously intoning, "I'm so sorry for what your daddy passed down to you. But I wanted a child, the greatest gift of my life." Between the obviously lingering daddy issues, his haggard appearance, and a habit of popping prescription pills, it's clear that something is very wrong in Beau's life. The subsequent horror imagery that puts a sinister light on his mother leads to the first of many great gags in the trailer, as we smash-cut to the balding Beau who gravely announces that, "I'm visiting my mother tomorrow."

And thus begins the "epic odyssey to get home to his mother," as the official synopsis puts it.

Trouble in paradise

Some films rely on a heavily atmospheric tone, building a sense of mystery and tension to the worldbuilding that forces audiences to question whether what they're seeing is actually real or not. This ... seems to be one of those kinds of movies, folks. While Beau has all the makings of being a slightly loony shut-in, it turns out that his fears could very well be justified. In whatever version of the world that Aster is dealing with here, things seem more than a little off. In an amusing sequence showing Beau going through his daily routine, the background gags that fill the frame paint quite a picture. Peep that "I will cut my own hands off" protest sign, the child with an AK-47 (please nobody flood my mentions with how it could be a slightly different variation of the Kalashnikov rifle, I promise you nobody cares!), and, most sinisterly of all, the man on the far right edge of the frame (sadly cut off in the above screenshot, but visible at the 30-second mark of the trailer) double-fisting ice cream cones like it's the end of the world.

Maybe that's exactly what it is! It sure looks like nothing short of an apocalypse poses Beau's biggest obstacle in what should be an otherwise simple task of visiting his mother.

'It's not safe, is it?'

Oh, Beau! As it turns out, there's a very good reason why he should be afraid. Mustering up all his courage to venture into the outside world to pay his mom a visit, disaster strikes pretty much immediately. While dodging the elderly zipping by on scooters, people fighting in the streets, and at least one random guy who seems dead-set on chasing down Beau specifically, who but Amy Ryan should arrive to do what they could not and put him out of commission by accidentally hitting him with her car. Let nobody ever say that Phoenix doesn't possess incredibly gifted comedic timing, either, as his incredulous "What?!" in response to Ryan sheepishly delivering the bad news goes to show. But even the helpful assistance of Ryan and Nathan Lane takes a turn for the surreal, as the suspicious couple seem intent on keeping poor Beau there indefinitely. Cue some nifty match-cuts, a bearded man staring through the window, and Beau smashing through a glass door to find his escape.

Of course, what he finds next is probably the furthest thing from what he expected.

Alright, let's get weird

You know what this trailer was missing? Exactly — a fairytale (and possibly hand-drawn animated?) interlude where Joaquin Phoenix wakes up in the middle of a yellow red brick road straight out of "The Wizard of Oz" — speaking of which, let us never forget how Aster originally described "Midsommar" – and accompanied by an unseen narrator lending a fittingly Greek tragedy feel to it all. "You will walk many miles. Dozens will become hundreds, hundreds will become thousands. Your adventures will continue for years and years." 

We see Beau age by decades in this bizarre and beautiful purgatory, desperate to get home but plagued every step of the way by a mysterious entity in a creepy, featureless mask who sounds like she's doing her best Cate Blanchett impression. For a filmmaker with such a confident handle on mise en scène throughout his previous two features, it's actually quite invigorating to see Aster let loose here and give into a bit of indulgence in making "Beau if Afraid" look utterly unlike anything he's done yet. That's the kind of natural evolution in our artists we love to see!

Truth and lies

The final 45 seconds of the trailer pass by in a flurry of chaotic sequences, from Beau running for his life in a forest while pursued by gunfire to Amy Ryan yelling "Rip him apart!" while covered in blue toothpaste(?) to more of that dreamy fantasy land to Beau staring up at some sort of scaffolded structure that clearly evokes "The Truman Show" to a far more blatant degree than we might have expected. Throughout it all, we see our embattled main character screaming about being lied to and demanding to know the "truth." Whatever that truth might be, we're as curious to know about it as he is. As far as first trailers go, this feels like a perfect launching pad for what will surely end up one of the year's most talked-about moviegoing experiences. After all that, we're still not entirely sure what's actually going on ... but we wouldn't have it any other way. Go ahead and blow our minds one more time, Ari Aster!

"Beau is Afraid" comes to theaters on April 21, 2023.