Absurd, Cute and Campy: The Movie Review from Hell


Signage outside the SIFF Cinema Uptown.

It is difficult to put my movie going experience this past weekend into words. If there were some thread of cinematic continuity between Ari Aster’s “Beau is Afraid”, Aaron Horvath’s and Michael Jelenic’s “The Super Mario Bros. Movie” and Chris McKay’s “Renfield”… I did not find it. 

With the plan to front load myself, I first saw Aster’s three hour long surrealist nightmare, “Beau is Afraid.” Beau, played by Joaquin Phoenix, is about as miserable as a person can be. His anxiety and fear are portrayed brilliantly and left me feeling unsettled throughout the entirety of the film. Known primarily for his films “Hereditary” and “Midsommar,” where the ordinary is slowly pulled back to reveal the sinister, in “Beau is Afraid,” Aster bares all. Bold-faced in both its absurdity and psychosis, four distinct plots culminate into a journey like none other. 

To put it simply, “Beau is Afraid” is a lot. If you are a fan of Aster’s other work or surrealist cinema like Charlie Kaufman’s films, this is probably the movie for you. On the other hand, if the idea of a three hour movie causes you an immense amount of dread and you can’t stand complex (nearly convoluted) messages in movies,“Beau is Afraid” is certainly not for you. To give it a rating, the film is either a 9/10 or a 2/10 with very little room for anything in between. 

On the complete opposite end of the cinematic spectrum, the next film I saw was Horvath’s and Jeleni’s “The Super Mario Bros. Movie.” Simple and fun, this movie was the perfect palette cleanser for the bowling ball I was forced to swallow watching “Beau is Afraid.” More like cotton candy, “The Super Mario Bros. Movie” had a run time of just over an hour and a half and a plot that, while half-baked, got the job done. Going into it, I was not expecting a masterpiece and certainly did not get one; however, I did expect references, nostalgia and simplicity—all three of which were delivered. 

Star power came from Chris Pratt as the (controversial) voice of Mario, Jack Black as the voice of Bowser, Anya Taylor-Joy as the voice of Princess Peach and several other Hollywood A-listers like Seth Rogan as Donkey Kong. For all its simplicity, possibly the best part of the film came through song: Bowser’s (Jack Black’s) “Peaches” is a funny, rock-inspired power ballad in which an infatuated Bowser belts his love for the princess he so desires. A separate music video was made for “Peaches” featuring Black, that now boasts over 29 million views on YouTube, and the song from the movie’s original soundtrack has been on the Billboard Hot 100 for three weeks, currently sitting at 62. This movie is a 6/10—a fun six but also a basic one. 

After seeing two polar opposites, Nick Cage’s Dracula movie “Renfield” was the third film I viewed, and it made me feel like I had entered a Bermuda Triangle of cinema (I really needed to make a play on seeing three movies, so give me a break on this one). Given the film’s premise, I don’t think I should have expected any less than what was delivered. Cage plays a narcissistic Dracula, and his assistant Renfield, played by Nicholas Hoult, is a conflicted servant who attends AA meetings for people stuck in toxic relationships while Rebecca Quincy, played by Awkwafina, is a police officer set on taking down the Lobos crime family. 

Ripped-off arms are used as spears, Cage’s Dracula craves a bus full of cheerleaders and kilos of cocaine are used as projectiles to escape a traffic stop—“Renfield” is campy and doesn’t try to be anything else. Unfortunately, Cage’s role feels underutilized, with Hoult and Awkwafina dominating screen time. The plot is basic, and nearly all of the fun comes in the moments of absurdity, which are heavily seasoned throughout. 

In terms of a rating, “Renfield” receives a 6/10, which, arguably, may be a bit generous for a film that’s most redeeming quality is the variety of ways it shows body parts can be removed. For all the gore and nihilistic humor, the film fails to capture the audience in its blood spray, though stays afloat via its charming cast and characters. 

At the end of the weekend, I can’t necessarily say I would recommend going and seeing any of these movies. “Beau is Afraid” is absurd and might either be the perfect film for you or the biggest drudgery of your life. “The Super Mario Bros. Movie” is not for the film buff lurking in this review, though it is probably for the rest of us when it comes out on the streaming platform we mooch off of. And finally, “Renfield” is for those who are intrigued by the idea of a Nick Cage Vampire movie… I can leave it at that.