Beau is Afraid: What is Joaquin Phoenix’s surreal horror-drama about?

Director Ari Aster returns with an anxiety-ridden trip into one man’s psyche

Joaquin Phoenix in Beau Is Afraid
Joaquin Phoenix stars in Beau Is Afraid. (A24/Sony Pictures)

Beau is Afraid is the latest mind-bending film from Hereditary and Midsommar director Ari Aster, with Academy Award winner Joaquin Phoenix in the lead role.

Joker star Phoenix plays a mild-mannered man named Beau who struggles with intense bouts of anxiety. His issues are exasperated further when he’s forced to set off on a trip back home to see his mother.

Described by Aster as a “nightmare comedy,” Beau is Afraid is the most expensive movie ever produced by A24, the indie studio behind Oscars favourite Everything Everywhere All At Once.

But it has already divided critics somewhat following its Stateside release in late April over its surreal and wild storyline.

As it arrives in UK cinemas, here are all the key details you need to know about this unnerving and darkly comic drama including the plot and cast.

Beau Is Afraid release date

Beau is Afraid is out now in cinemas across the UK. The hotly awaited film has an epic three-hour runtime, making it longer than both Hereditary and Midsommar.

Joaquin Phoenix in Beau Is Afraid
Phoenix plays the paranoid and anxious Beau. (A24/Sony Pictures)

Beau is Afraid plot

Beau is Afraid is a story that director Ari Aster has apparently wanted to tell for a long time, even going so far as to create a short film in 2021 entitled Beau which later helped to inspire a scene in his 2023 feature film.

Plot-wise, the film looks set to be just as mind-bending as Aster’s previous work, with the filmmaker describing its storyline in a number of colourful ways like “if you pumped a 10-year-old full of Zoloft, and [had] him get your groceries,” and “a Jewish Lord of the Rings, but [Beau's] just going to his mom’s house.”

But what is Beau is Afraid actually about and is it strictly a horror movie?

Joaquin Phoenix stars in Beau Is Afraid. (A24/Sony Pictures)
Joaquin Phoenix stars in Beau Is Afraid. (A24/Sony Pictures)

Well, story-wise, it’s relatively simple. Phoenix plays the titular Beau who is a paranoid and anxious man living in a small apartment in a crime-infested city in an alternative present reality.

After being prescribed some drugs to help soothe his nerves, he tries to set off on a trip back home for his parents' wedding anniversary only for things to take a series of bad turns, each darker and more anxiety-inducing than the last.

Read more: The best horror movies of 2022

After discovering that his mother has died, his trip takes a sinister turn, all while the prescription drugs he's on make it hard to decipher reality from fantasy as he travels from one bizarre and unfortunate encounter to the next. It is this fantasy-esque element combined with Aster's signature troubling imagery that has given Beau is Afraid its links to the horror genre.

What are critics saying about Beau is Afraid?

The reviews are in for Joaquin Phoenix's new one, Beau Is Afraid. (A24/Sony Pictures)
The reviews are in for Joaquin Phoenix's new one, Beau Is Afraid. (A24/Sony Pictures)

Following its release across the pond, critics have chimed in about what they made of Phoenix's latest. The overall consensus? It's a bit of a divisive mind-bender that you'll either love or hate, with Rotten Tomatoes giving it a 69% critic score against a slightly higher 71% audience rating. Here's what people have said:

Beau is Afraid cast

Ari Aster and Joaquin Phoenix attend the Los Angeles premiere of Beau Is Afraid.
Ari Aster and Joaquin Phoenix attend the Los Angeles premiere of Beau Is Afraid. (Photo by Robin L Marshall/FilmMagic)

Phoenix takes the lead in Aster’s latest as the perpetually paranoid Beau.

He’s joined by actor and singer Patti LuPone who plays his mother, Mona, Parker Posey as his love interest Elaine, Richard Kind as his mother’s attorney, Dr. Cohen, and Stephen McKinley Henderson as his therapist.

Throughout his journey back home, Beau encounters an array of characters that make up the movie’s ensemble cast, including The US Office star Amy Ryan, Nathan Lane, Denis Ménochet, Hayley Squires and Michael Gandolfini.

Beau is Afraid trailers

A24 invited us inside Aster’s horror drama in early January with the film’s first official trailer. Once hitting play, viewers were transported to Beau’s tightly wrung, surrealist world.

Earlier this month, a second trailer for the film was released, doubling down on the bizarre promise of trailer one.

Beau is Afraid is out in cinemas now.