What’s this? An Oscar Beat in the heart of the summer movie season? Indeed, while awards season doesn’t really get underway until August/September when the festivals begin, I had to blow the dust off Oscar Beat to discuss one very serious awards contender now in theaters: Hereditary. The horror film from writer/director Ari Aster has garnered widespread critical acclaim, with many pointing to Toni Collette’s lead turn as the best performance of her career, and I’m here to confirm that’s indeed the case—and A24 is already thinking Oscar chances.
In truth, the Oscar buzz for Hereditary began at Sundance, where the film premiered and Variety’s Kristopher Tapley wisely flagged Collette’s performance as an early contender for Best Actress. She plays a miniaturist artist and mother of two who, when the film begins, is grieving over the death of her own mother. Well, “grieving” might be a strong word, as it’s established that the two didn’t have the best relationship. But in the wake of her mother’s death, strange happenings begin to occur within the family, and Collette’s character tries with every fiber of her being to hold things together.
To say more would be to spoil the fun, but Hereditary allows Collette to truly show off her range in what’s essentially a dark family drama. There are horror aspects to the film to be sure, and yes it should certainly be categorized as a horror film, but Aster’s script allows the actors to breathe and provides the opportunity for genuinely fascinating—and extremely emotional—arcs. Collette is far and away the centerpiece of the film, and she swings for the fences with a powerhouse performance that should be on the top of everyone’s Best Actress shortlists at this admittedly very early stage of the game.
The Academy does have a bit of a bias against genre films in general, which is why A24 is getting in on the ground floor. The Silence of the Lambs still stands as the only horror film to win Best Picture (and it also won Director, Actor, Actress, and Adapted Screenplay), and in terms of performances the only recent horror film nominees were Get Out (Best Actor), Black Swan (Best Actress), and of course The Sixth Sense, for which Collette was nominated for Best Supporting Actress.
But the Academy’s demographics are changing, as evidenced by the fact that Get Out scored four major nominations last year and won Best Original Screenplay. If A24 plays its cards right, Hereditary could be a genuine contender. A Best Actress nomination for Collette is the film’s best shot, but I wouldn’t entirely rule out the possibility of nominations for Production Design, Cinematography, and/or Editing—although those are admittedly more of a stretch. It’s a masterfully crafted film full-stop, and Hereditary has affected (and upset) so many people precisely because of Aster’s specificity of vision and masterful execution.
Hereditary isn’t the only horror film of 2018 that could benefit from the changing Academy makeup, as I previously wrote about the Oscar chances of this spring’s surprise hit A Quiet Place. Again, it’s incredibly early in the race and we still don’t know exactly how crowded the field will be later this year, but it’d be foolish to write these films off entirely.
So yes, the hype is real. Toni Collette gives an Oscar-worthy performance in Hereditary, and if A24 plays this one right and the film can ride out the fall film festival season while keeping Collette’s name at the forefront of voters’ minds, a Best Actress nomination is a real possibility. As for the naysayers, remember when Get Out was released in February and everyone said it “wasn’t really an Oscar movie?” How’d that work out?