Watch Toni Collette in a scene from 'Hereditary,' the year's scariest movie (exclusive)

Ethan Alter
Senior Writer, Yahoo Entertainment

Toni Collette has a certain bedside manner with haunted children. Back in 1999, the Australian actress consoled young dead-people seer Haley Joel Osment in the blockbuster horror hit The Sixth Sense and picked up an Oscar nomination for her trouble. Flash-forward nearly 20 years, and she’s once again playing mother to a frightened kid — played by Milly Shapiro — in this exclusive clip from the buzzy horror movie Hereditary, which opens in theaters today. (Watch the clip above.)

Having recently buried her own mom, Annie Graham (Collette), listens to her daughter, Charlie (Shapiro), as the young girl confesses to conflicted feelings about her deceased grandmother and mortality in general before drifting off to sleep. “It’s a rare moment of admission and connection with a child who finds it difficult to connect with other people,” Collette tells Yahoo Movies. “It’s kind of heartwarming when you have intimate moments with your kids and they open up to you.” While it’s a quieter moment than much of the rest of the movie, the scene still carries decidedly eerie overtones for what’s to come. (Fun fact: it also contains a key piece of dialogue — one that we won’t reveal here — that unlocks one of the film’s most confounding third-act mysteries, so be sure to watch it again after you get back from the theater.) “It seemed easy to be honest,” Collette says with a laugh. “Easier than most of the other scenes in the movie!”

Just because the scene seemed easy doesn’t mean that Collette phoned it in, of course. Since Hereditary’s premiere at the Sundance Film Festival in January, critics and horror fans alike have been screaming from the rooftops their appreciation for the Ari Aster-directed film. And those same tastemakers are also hoping that Collette will be back in the Oscar conversation when the awards season picks up in the fall for her intensely committed portrayal of a woman wrestling with some very serious — and very scary — family drama. “It was honestly one of the most challenging, profound, and satisfying working experiences I’ve had,” Collette says now. “It really was not what I was looking for, but it had this undeniable pull. I felt like I understood it on such a deep level.”

Toni Collette in one of many scary moments from Hereditary. (Photo: Reid Chavis, courtesy of A24)

The death of Annie’s mother early on in Hereditary kicks off a series of increasingly bizarre and chilling events that fracture her already-tenuous relationship with Charlie, as well as her teenage son, Peter (Alex Wolff), and husband, Steve (Gabriel Byrne). “Annie is someone who is in the dark about her own life,” Collette says. “She’s aware of an ominous dread, and can’t quite put a finger on what it is. As the film progresses, she’s obviously in a lot of emotional pain and has a contentious relationship with her family as it is. Some of the dynamics between the family are horrific without being genre-related.”

Because she’s playing a character whose world is steadily unraveling, Collette says that she latched on to a specific moment as a way of keeping herself grounded, as Annie spins out of control. That moment comes during a haunting dream-within-a-dream sequence during which she cries out to her kids, “I was trying to save you.” “That, to me, was everything,” Collette reveals. “Even within this dream-within-a-dream, she has some kind of awareness of what’s going on, and deep down she does love her children, because some of her behavior is the opposite of what you imagine mothering would be. I really have been clinging to that one scene; it tells the audience that she does have an understanding. It’s just in her subconscious, and not something she can fully grasp. The film is about an awakening ultimately. And not a very good one!”

Hereditary is playing in theaters now.

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