“Well I’m horrified too”
Just before he’s about to leave his apartment for a flight to visit his mother, Beau (Billy Mayo) realizes he’s forgotten his dental floss. What should be a quick jaunt upstairs to the bathroom becomes the biggest mistake of his life upon returning to see his keys—which he left in the lock—are gone. He has no choice but to cancel his plans and stay home. He can’t leave his possessions unguarded, but he can’t risk letting down his defenses in case whoever took his keys returns with murderous intent. So paranoia sets in. Everyone he comes into contact with is aggressive, rude, and seemingly against him from ever living a normal life again. And then things get weird.
Written and directed by Ari Aster, Beau delivers on the promise of The Strange Thing About the Johnsons. It vacillates between horror and comedy as its character devolves into a mess of psychological chaos thanks to the torturous uncertainty of accepting our intrinsic vulnerability. We initially feel for his plight, sympathizing with his impossible situation and relating to his need for protection no matter how convoluted or Rube Goldberg-esque it may prove. But as soon as the first stranger screams at him in a knowing way—as though he’s in on some plot to dismantle every fiber of Beau’s existence—we realize we crave his destruction. So when his mental breakdown begins adopting a conspiratorial and fantastical absurdity, we bask in the glory of Aster’s sinister irreverence.
The result is a wild ride through Beau’s broken psyche, one that has us confused as far as what’s real. Opossums arrive, community outreach figures berate him, and a creature known as Kolgaan enters to make us question whether this man exists in our world or if we’ve entered his. And if it’s the latter (his mother’s out-going answering machine message speaks directly to him alone), how does that detachment influence our macabre desire to watch him suffer? When does the fantasy of it all replace our sense of humanity and allow us to crave his latest, completely unprovoked mishap? It therefore lends an interesting juxtaposition to Aster’s feature debut Hereditary in that we’re asked to relinquish our empathy rather than strive hold onto it tighter.