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Toni Collette Is Explosive, but ‘Hereditary’ Is Horrific: How Genre Bias Can Kill Oscar Chances

Is there a place Toni Collette will not go? The actress's fearless performance could put her in the Oscar race.

"Hereditary"

“Hereditary”

Winning any Oscar nomination demands that enough Academy voters see the movie in the first place. A demanding film can make the cut — “The Shape of Water,” “12 Years a Slave,” “Moonlight,” and “Get Out” prove that — but in order to go the distance, they first had to become must-see films. For most genre movies, that’s a bridge too far.

Far more horror films have been nominated for Oscars than have won. A scary movie needs serious elevation to score Oscar nods: Either it penetrates the culture as a drama, or boasts such amazing acting or production values that its quality can’t be denied.

Jordan Peele’s “Get Out” rose above its horror DNA thanks to the preferential ballot and to an expanded younger and more diverse Academy membership. This timely racial thriller, which started production during the Obama administration and was released in the age of Trump, hit the zeitgeist just right.

Now, A24 may have a smash hit with “Hereditary,” which hits theaters June 8 — and may also have the right stuff to break through this year. A breakdown of its Oscar strengths and weaknesses, below.

No Merchandising. Editorial Use Only. No Book Cover Usage.Mandatory Credit: Photo by Moviestore/REX/Shutterstock (9690088g) Toni Collette Hereditary - 2018

Toni Collette in “Hereditary”

Moviestore/REX/Shutterstock

Strengths

1. Critical cred

Ever since the haunted house scare-fest broke out at Sundance, reviewers have given the movie raves: it currently sits at 89 on Metacritic. The movie will likely score multiple Gotham, Independent Spirit, and Critics Choice nominations, and place high on many critics’ 10-best lists at year’s end.

2. Toni Collette

This well-regarded Australian chameleon has scored just one Oscar nomination, for her supporting role as an anguished mother in 1999’s “The Sixth Sense,” one of three Best Picture nominees she’s starred in, along with “The Hours” (2002) and “Little Miss Sunshine” (2006). She broke out in rollicking Australian import “Muriel’s Wedding” (1994). She starred as another mother in “About a Boy” (2002), and won both Emmy and Golden Globe awards for Diablo Cody’s multiple personality disorder TV series “United States of Tara” (2009).

Collette’s extraordinary reviews for the grieving artist mother in “Hereditary” are deserved. Her character, Annie, has conflicted feelings about her mother, but she’s understandably thrown by her parent’s death. And when a series of terrible events follow, it’s enough to push anyone over to the disturbed side of the mental ledger. Her performance starts from a place of deep emotion, then fearlessly goes further into sleepwalking dreamscapes and possible witchery, even madness. Think Ellen Burstyn in “Requiem for a Dream” or “The Exorcist.”

If enough actors see the low-budget psychological thriller, Collette could follow in the footsteps of Oscar-winners such as Natalie Portman (“Black Swan”), Kathy Bates (“Misery”), Jodie Foster (“The Silence of the Lambs”), Ruth Gordon (“Rosemary’s Baby”), and Frederic March (“Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde”).

She’ll likely land nominations from the Gothams, the Indie Spirits, and a few critics groups and the Golden Globes, heading toward SAG and the Oscars.

Ex Machina

“Ex Machina”

A24

3. A24

In its short life, indie distributor A24 has earned respect for turning movies that might initially seem unprepossessing — “Amy,” “Room” “Ex Machina,” “Moonlight” — into Oscar winners. A24 was impressed enough by Ari Aster’s taut short thrillers to bank on him directing his first feature. They took a gamble on launching “Hereditary” at Sundance, where it popped and gave them plenty of quote fodder. Rather than go in the spring, they took the time to build buzz at SXSW and other film festivals ahead of a summer release on more than 2,200 screens — after “Solo” and before “Incredibles 2.”

Weaknesses

1. Horror genre

While the Academy seems to be more flexible of late with Oscar wins for “Get Out” and “The Shape of Water,” “Hereditary” is a more straightforward horror picture. It’s a small movie without the layers and gravitas of “Get Out.” Nor does it have the scale and mainstream awareness of such Best Picture Oscar-winners as Alfred Hitchcock’s “Rebecca” (1940) or Jonathan Demme’s “The Silence of the Lambs” (1991). A24 will nonetheless make some stabs beyond Best Actress at screenwriting and VFX attention.

2. Rookie director

31-year-old Ari Aster is not a known commodity, so he’ll be gaining momentum from a few first-timer mentions along the way.

Bottom line

A24 will be screaming all the way to the bank whether they land any Oscar attention or not — but Collette is their likeliest Oscar bet.

“Hereditary” opens on Friday, June 8.

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