SA EXCLUSIVE: I interviewed Toni Collette from under my desk to talk about ‘the scariest film in years’
Cape Town – There was a moment during Hereditary that I found myself wishing I hadn’t entered the cinema alone. A decapitation scene so disturbing it haunts me still. The success of the scene lies in the way it lingers and refuses to let go of the audience. Instead writer-director Ari Aster deliberately lets it slow down to glacier pace after a breathless flurry of chaos – stretching out the horror to force both viewer and protagonist to truly experience its gut-wrenching trauma.
“This scene will haunt me forever,” I whisper into the phone whilst huddling under my desk in the open plan office. I crawled into the snug space after the crackling phone line made it difficult to hear the voice on the other side of it. In retrospect I suppose it’s also the most comforting position to take on when talking about the horror flick that critics are calling “the scariest film in years”.
“Oh no, you should never have watched it alone. Always safety in numbers,” a genuinely concerned Toni Collette tries to comfort me. The Hollywood star is in London promoting the film and took a few minutes from her busy schedule to talk to Channel24 about Hereditary.
DIVING DEEP AND UNCOVERING THE WORST
“I was really drawn to the script. It was original and surprising. The film is profound and really complex and that’s what drew me to this project. I was intrigued by Annie and the mystery around her. She’s a woman on the brink of losing her mind and that was intimidating to take on,” Toni explains what piqued her interest in the project.
The film starts with the death of the matriarch of the Graham family. She was a difficult person with a lot of secrets. It’s those secrets that come back to haunt Annie and her entire family as they slowly discover the dark truth and sinister fate that they seem to have inherited. What starts out as a calm and slow film steadily evolves into a spine-chilling and frightful piece of cinema that sinks its dark claws into you and won’t let go even after the end credits start rolling.
The 45-year-old actress is of course no stranger to the thriller genre. Her iconic portrayal of Lynn Sear in The Sixth Sense earned her an Academy Award nomination and international recognition. In Hereditary however she ramps it up as her character Annie goes from quietly confident mother figure to off-the-scale demonic. “Annie is an intriguing and a difficult multi-layered character. She’s a woman who experiences an awakening and with it she finds the most unexpected and uncovers the worst. She’s definitely someone I would avoid in real-life but that’s exactly what made her such an interesting character. There’s a lot going on there.”
Toni’s portrayal is already generating award season buzz. IndieWire writes; “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.”
But none of that mattered to the Australian-born actress as she plunged herself into the raw and emotional moments during filming; “The role demanded a lot emotionally and that of course translates into the physical as well. You have to fully commit yourself in order to bring reality to each moment. And there were many of those in this film. Every day on set demanded focus. Of course that affects you in a way, but it’s important to be aware of that and to be careful not to take it with you. You have to learn to leave that behind and not allow it to linger after the camera stops rolling. It’s important to look after yourself. This is something I learned from other projects I worked on. Self-care is very important.”
But it wasn’t all dark and depressing on the set of the film. Toni is full of praise for newcomer director Ari; “Yes, it was hard work and challenging but Ari made it so much easier. He’s such a fresh and accomplished new voice and really took his time to build the story. He steadily allowed the story to change and develop and the result is breath-taking. It was a great set to work on. Even experiencing Utah in spring was different and exciting. It was a very special team of people and everyone contributed so much. That was probably the part I enjoyed the most – the actual work on set was definitely the most satisfying part.”
The critics seem to agree that Hereditary is a masterful piece of work thanks in large part to the impressive commitment of both Toni and Ari. “The main reason that the film works as well as it does is the raw, almost feral presence of Toni Collette. In what could be considered a companion piece to her performance in The Sixth Sense,” writes Entertainment Weekly’s Chris Nashawaty. While The New York Times’ A. O. Scott declares: “Hereditary, the debut feature from Ari Aster, has an ambitious energy, a sense that the creaky old machinery of horror can be adapted to new and exciting uses.”
And just like that my few minutes with Toni comes to an end and I can’t help but ask if she herself believes in spirits and ghosts. “I’m definitely a spiritual person and I truly believe we’re just a small part of a bigger picture. But I’ve never seen a ghost myself.” With that we say our goodbyes and the line goes silent.
I’m still sitting under my desk soaking up the conversation I just had and recalling my time alone in the dark theatre earlier the week. This truly is impressive piece of cinema that will torment viewers long after. Its success sitting in the way it rather unsuspectingly and subtly crawls to its hellish finale whilst spewing pure darkness at those brave enough to watch it. The stuff of nightmares.
DID YOU KNOW: The film had a 98% fresh rating on review-aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes after its screening at the Sundance Film Festival.
WATCH THE TRAILER HERE: