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'Beau Is Afraid' Is a Nightmarish Masterpiece
Plus: A few quick thoughts on 'Evil Dead Rise' and 'The Covenant'
Something remarkable happened this week: I went to see three different movies in theaters and I liked all of them. I can’t remember a time when there’s been three movies playing that I’ve even wanted to see since before the pandemic, let alone actually enjoyed. It really does feel like The Movies are finally coming back. There’s a wide variety of high-quality product at your local multiplex and we should all take advantage!
Below, a few quick thoughts on each of the films I was able to catch.
Beau Is Afraid
I think Beau Is Afraid is a masterpiece. But I don’t know if I can recommend it to anyone?
Joaquin Phoenix plays Beau, a mild-mannered man who’s just trying to get home to his mom. But along the way, he encounters every conceivable obstacle, some of his own creation. Beau is hapless and harmless, yet is often perceived uncharitably by those around him. At times, it seems like the universe has conspired to prevent him from achieving any of his goals or any semblance of happiness.
This movie is like watching someone’s literal nightmare unfold for 3 hours. We’ve all had nightmares and we understand how strange and disorienting they are. To quote Leonardo DiCaprio in Inception, “Dreams feel real while we're in them. It's only when we wake up that we realize something was actually strange.” Inception was all about the dream world but Beau Is Afraid is one of the few films where I actually felt like I was living in someone’s dream world.
And Beau’s is an unpleasant, bizarre, and unsettling dream world. Imagine every negative thought and neurosis you’ve ever had about yourself, your family, the strangers around you, the neighborhood you live in, your future, your talents, the universe, everything — imagine all those negative thoughts manifested and became real. Those kind people who may be eyeing you suspiciously? Turns out they do think you’re being incriminating! The people hanging around your apartment building that look kinda dangerous? Turns out they are! And so on, ad infinitum, spiraling out forever. An endless dream from which you cannot wake.
There’s barely any plot to speak of. At various points and without warning, the movie shifts gears and tackles a completely separate idea. The end of this film happens so abruptly and without fanfare that I almost cackled in the theater. I think most people will find the film overall to be plodding, listless, and without purpose. But as someone who deals with a lot of anxiety, I really felt seen by this movie. It accomplishes something I just haven’t seen any other movie do: taking an intense emotional state and rendering it on screen beautifully.
Your mileage may vary.
Evil Dead Rise
Over on The Filmcast Patreon page, we’ve been watching all the Evil Dead movies in the lead-up to Evil Dead Rise’s release this weekend. I’ve really enjoyed brushing up on this chapter of cinema history as I’ve found each of the movies to be wildly different. Sam Raimi’s original two films are so packed to the gills with creativity and memorable moments, but were light on elements like “character development” and “plot.” Army of Darkness is a blast but just doesn’t feel like any of the other films in the series. And Evil Dead (the 2013 remake) delivers on the gore but lacks any of the zaniness and occasional fun that made the original Evil Dead movies so memorable.
Of all of these, Evil Dead Rise feels most like a successor to 2013’s Evil Dead, but it makes a number of changes — and in my estimation, improvements — to the formula. It brings the idea of Deadites into the modern world (this time, in an apartment building in Los Angeles) and it introduces a unique family dynamic into the mix. Ellie (Alyssa Sutherland) is a single mother trying to raise three children when her sister Beth (Lily Sullivan) shows up for a visit and a sequence of nightmarish events unfold.
Despite the almost total lack of humor throughout, I had a lot of fun with Evil Dead Rise. It’s gory and gruesome to the extreme, but the set pieces feel memorable and creative. Many of the kills pay homage to previous movies in the franchise while putting a unique spin on them. But beyond the technical craft, I was most impressed that they were able to graft the Evil Dead formula onto characters who I actually cared about and wanted to see succeed. If you’re a horror fan, I can’t imagine you’ll be disappointed by this one.
My comments below will discuss plot details revealed by the above trailer for The Covenant.
The Covenant tells the story of two men who are part of America’s war in Afghanistan. Many years after America has become an occupying force, John Kinley (Jake Gyllenhaal) is still on the lookout for IED factories but progress is slow. He recruits the help of a skilled, unpredictable interpreter named Ahmed (Dar Salim) to help him facilitate his quest. In reality, interpreters like Ahmed put themselves and their family in jeopardy by helping the U.S. military. They did so under the promise of obtaining a visa, a commitment which the U.S. has done a poor job of honoring, to say the least.
This is a movie full of contradictions. One the one hand, it’s an engrossing and riveting adventure about two men brought together by fate and the lengths to which they will go to save each other. On the other hand, it’s also military propaganda — the lines between the “good guys” and the “bad guys” are extremely clear and not to be questioned, and hundreds of faceless “bad guys” (pretty much all of them brown) are mowed down during the course of the movie. On the other hand, I really appreciate the message of this movie, which is that the U.S. needs to honor its commitments to its allies or else risk further disgrace on the world stage. And if this movie brings even slightly more attention to that idea, then maybe it’s a good thing.
All in all, a mixed bag.
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Other Stuff I’ve Made
On my personal Patreon page, I published a conversation I had with my friend Adam reacting to Beau Is Afraid. Listen here, but beware spoilers.
Over on Decoding TV, we’ve launched a new show called This Week In Streaming where Siddhant Adlakha and I tackle a new release every week. This week, we covered the return of Barry to HBO. Listen here or watch below.
[PAID ONLY] As I mentioned, on The Filmcast Patreon page, we’ve been rewatching all the Evil Dead movies. Here’s our coverage of the first two films, and here’s our coverage of Army of Darkness and the Evil Dead remake.
[PAID ONLY] For paid Decoding TV members on this season of Succession, I’m joined by media strategist David Cho to discuss how realistic the show is. This week we discuss what it’s like to listen to corporate-speak all the time. Listen here.
[PAID ONLY] Speaking of David Cho, we recorded an “emergency podcast” discussing the removal of legacy blue checkmarks from Twitter this week. Listen here.