Why Ari Aster Wanted To Load Beau Is Afraid With 'Chicken Fat' Background Gags

"Beau is Afraid," the new epic dark comedy from acclaimed director Ari Aster, is a surreal odyssey through the main character's inner psyche, exploring fears and traumas with the visual help of dense, elaborate set pieces. Aster labored over creating the nightmare-like world of his film, loading frames with blink-and-you'll-miss-them background details as if no corner provides any sort of relief from Beau's descent into never-ending anxiety. Aster intended this "chicken fat" — a term coined by MAD Magazine's Will Elder to describe his comic panels' intentionally excessive background gags — to further immerse the audience into a deeply uncomfortable, overwhelming chaos

Oh, and they're also supposed to be funny.

Aster has a history of subtly hiding spooky visual clues and references throughout his movies. His 2018 debut feature "Hereditary" featured sinister naked Satanic cult members hanging out in the shadows and foreshadowed the film's big twists with the symbol of the demon Paimon. There's also the face of Dani's sister (who dies by suicide at the start of the movie) hidden in the background trees in "Midsommar," reminding the main character of her family trauma. "Beau is Afraid," however, cranks these details up to 11 as Aster looked to mold "an invented world, which was basically a mirror of the world we're in now, but just a little bit worse, like everything that's awful about this world is just a little more extreme," as he told Collider.

Never stop building

Ari Aster credited the darkly ornate visual atmosphere of "Beau is Afraid" to the film's production designer Fiona Crombie, who won an Oscar for her work on the irreverently surreal period piece "The Favourite." The two worked on "color-coding" different parts of the narrative so that they were both "cohesive" and "very stark in their differences." "Everything needed to be invented along with [this landscape]," according to Aster, so "the names of the shops, billboards, posters, band names, products, everything" are fictional. Aster admitted that not everyone is even going to see everything, it was important to him that these careful details "makes this world very real." He expressed to Collider:

"What I love about chicken fat, first, just like as a reader or as a viewer, is that I see the thought and care that went into the world, and it encourages a different kind of engagement for me to really search the frame and to really pay this thing respect because I feel respected as a viewer. And so, it's just something I believe is worth the effort. And if you have the chance to make a film, which you don't have every day, there should never be any point at which you've stopped building it out until it's over."

"Beau is Afraid" is, in many ways, a labor of love for Aster. The film's original screenplay draft has existed since 2014, before "Hereditary" and "Midsommar" even saw the light of day, and the premise is based on an even older short film entitled "Beau" from his AFI film school days in 2011. It's only fair that the filmmaker gets to pack it with whatever anti-whimsically distraught visions he has in mind.

"Beau is Afraid" opens in theaters on April 21, 2023.