It’s hard to know how exactly to describe Hereditary as a film. On one hand, it’s a dark descent into a person’s damaged psyche. On the other hand, it’s an enigmatic supernatural thriller that serves an allegory for the “demons” we inherit from our family. The film itself is a twisted experience that had me quivering by the time the credits rolled.
But one thing about Hereditary that is perfectly describable is the brilliance of Toni Collette’s leading performance. Collette gives what is perhaps the best performance in a horror film in recent memory. One that will potentially join the same ranks as performances like Mia Farrow in Rosemary’s Baby and Ellen Burstyn in The Exorcist.
Collette plays Annie, the matriarch of the Graham family who just lost her mother. While she is sad about her passing, she’s still reeling from how she dealt with her mother’s inner demons. Not to mention, it becomes apparent from the beginning that she may have inherited her mother’s struggles. During an early scene where Annie tucks her daughter Charlie into bed, it’s evident that Annie isn’t quite right in the head. As she calmly assures her daughter she’ll take care of her, her eyes blink rapidly.
Once the film progresses and Annie explains her dark past, Annie’s grief, denial, and self-flagellation start to slip through the cracks. Her eye twitching, seismic meltdowns, and tearful paranoia are carefully calculated and precise techniques constructed by Toni Collette.
It shouldn’t be a huge surprise to see Toni Collette give a great performance. However, the things she does here are unlike anything else that she’s ever done in her career. She’s only been Oscar nominated once in her entire career for her supporting turn in The Sixth Sense. But this performance should seriously put her on the hunt for Nomination #2.
Just the dinner scene, which is the film’s centerpiece and has been featured heavily in the marketing, is enough to warrant awards praise. When Annie snaps at her son Peter (Alex Woolf), she goes on an unhinged tangent that is more terrifying than some kind of boogeyman popping out of a closet. Not because of any jump scares or makeup effects. It has a chilling effect because it just features realistic, raw acting.
All in all, Hereditary may be a nightmarish experience that can be interpreted in any way by the audience. But it is mainly a strong showcase for Toni Collette. It may be the month of June but if there are leading-actress performances better than Collette’s, then this is going to be one heck of a year for leading ladies.
Academy, please consider!