28 Jun 2018 | BY Sarah Thomas - @SarahTtheWriter
It’s early days, of course, but the Oscar buzz swirling around Toni Collette’s performance as the anguished mother, Annie, in Hereditary is a good omen on many levels. Horror, like comedy, is an often overlooked genre when it comes to awards nods, but it would be an absolute outrage if Collette’s raw, unflinching, complex, confronting portrayal of Annie isn’t acknowledged in next year’s awards season.
Collette, coincidentally, already has Oscars form in horror, scoring a nomination for best supporting actress way back in 2000, as another troubled mother in The Sixth Sense. Last year, another horror, Get Out, upset the awards apple-cart by appearing in several categories at the Oscars, including the hugely worthy best actor nomination for Daniel Kaluuya.
This new mainstream strain of art-horror, of which Get Out and Hereditary are a part, is a refreshingly new twist on familiar territory, offering invigoratingly original work up at the multiplex. I’d throw into this mix, too, this year’s surprising A Quiet Place, which succeeding in turning the actual physical experience of watching a movie on its head. The film’s lead actress, Emily Blunt, also deserves an awards look-in for her striking performance as a mother straddling a fierce protectiveness and helpless terror about the fate of her children.
It’s maternal matters that are also at the core of Hereditary. Collette as a grieving mother and daughter manages to override all the film’s spooky elements, as admirable as they are. The film is the staggeringly ambitious debut feature of writer-director Ari Aster, and has been enormously divisive because of its upstart bravery in twisting the genre on its head. It sets up all the familiar elements of a supernatural possession movie and then throws them all out of the window, leaving audiences struggling to make sense of what’s happening, and sometimes there’s very little happening, too. It’s that aspect that makes it such unnerving viewing, that real sense of the unknown, the dread of what might come.
Despite the story’s unwieldy shape, it’s Collette who gels it all together as we follow her journey of grief and descent into madness. We share that total lack of control with all of the family, including Annie’s impotent husband Steve (Gabriel Byrne) and her traumatised children, son Peter (Alex Wolff) and daughter Charlie (Milly Shapiro). And while the overarching tone is one of a demonic, occult involvement, as Aster himself says, it’s first and foremost a family drama.
Hereditary does serve up a fair amount of oh-god-I-can’t-believe-they-just-did-that hair-raising jumps and supernatural shenanigans but it’s the human story at its centre that’s the most terrifying. The unforgettable, stand-out moment of the film is Collette’s harrowing display of mother-daughter grief, an involuntary primal wailing that is as uncomfortable to watch as it is inclusive in sharing such a terrible human experience.
This is absolutely why Collette should be in the Oscars running: to upstage the supernatural with the human is an incredible achievement.
Sarah Thomas is an entertainment writer and contributing editor at The FIERCE. @SarahTtheWriter.