A Mother of All Horror: Celebrating Toni Collette’s Status As A Horror Icon

Toni Collette Hereditary

The horror genre has many icons, but no one is more iconic than Toni Collette. Although she gained more appreciation in 2018’s Hereditary, she initially broke out due to starring in 1999’s The Sixth Sense. Even when she achieved more mainstream success, she never forgot about her roots and starred in a few more horror films. More notably, she has a track record of playing mother characters in the genre, ranging from being a white picket suburban mom in Fright Night to a woman whose Christmas plans come under wraps by the titular character in Krampus. Because of her talents and strengths as an actress, Toni Collette has become a modern-day horror mom icon. More notable, though, is Collette’s penchant for playing mother characters while not being pigeonholed in a specific niche.

A key aspect of Collette lies in her commitment not tied to a specific niche. More specifically, she has starred in various subgenres within the horror genre. Nothing is genuinely off-limits for Collette, whether it be psychological horror, horror comedy, or more paranormal. Outside of horror, she has made this quite none with her expansive cross-genre filmography. But specifically for the horror genre, Collette has reinforced her love and passion for it. She demonstrates not only a penchant for grounding believable characters but perfectly hitting comedic notes as well. Collette is a talented, well-rounded actress who is up for anything while leaving her mark as well. Her characters stay in your mind long after the movie is over. 

Collette’s extremely expressive face has become her hallmark as an actress. She can demonstrate a variety of emotions and thoughts simply through her facial expressions. More notably, this talent helps elevate her work on Hereditary to another level, as you can see and experience Annie Graham’s grief and loss of reality by watching her face and eyes. More importantly, it never comes off as campy or overactive.

Toni Collette, Imogen Poots, and Anton Yelchin in Fright Night (2011)

Similarly, her talent for showing her character’s change of emotional state plays a significant role in her success in The Sixth Sense. Her knack for hitting the subtle and more enormous emotional beats that exist by simply utilizing her face had a significant impact. In one of the most famous scenes where Cole Sear (Haley Joel Osment) reveals his talent for speaking with the dead, Collette’s Lynn gradually transforms from being stiff and closed off to being emotionally open and vulnerable through a natural transference of emotions. You feel the sincerity and pain as she finally accepts her son’s gifts after he tells her about a specific experience with her mother he would not know about. 

Toni Collette The Sixth Sense
Haley Joel Osment and Toni Collette in The Sixth Sense

Then comes her gift of playing memorable supporting characters, such as the case with Fright Night, where she plays a more supporting comedic character like Jane Brewster to Anton Yelchin’s straight-man protagonist Charley Brewster. Likewise, she demonstrates a talent for ensemble pieces like in Krampus, where she stands out as Sarah Engel among a dream team of comedic performers. Even though they are supporting roles, Collette still takes them seriously and makes them three-dimensional and memorable.

Considering Fright Night is a remake, Collette does not replicate Dorothy Fielding’s performance from the original and instead makes it hers while being more outstanding. While it would be easy to play supporting characters in a cut-and-dry “motherly manner,” she imbues them with humor and humanity that makes them stick in your memory. Along those lines, her natural chemistry with her co-stars helps craft a more natural bond and glue in the movies. Collette demonstrates what a great supporting performer can contribute to a work.

Next, Collette has a talent for slipping into her characters and fully embodying them. Receiving much-deserved acclaim for Hereditary, the line between the character of Annie and Toni Collette quietly disappears since it becomes difficult to know where one begins and the other ends. But, this never feels forced and allows for the character to be fully fleshed out and fully realized. Collette allows herself to be emotionally vulnerable while acting and for the viewer to empathize and understand her nature.

When I watch Hereditary, I don’t see Toni Collette but the essence of Annie with the appearance of Collette. She crafts a consistent core that makes her performances not only believable but to be efficiently invested in. Collette gives reasons why, as viewers, we need to be interested in her character’s story and arc. Even with her supporting roles, she still draws us in and finds a way to care about her role. In this case, she strikes the perfect balance where it feels effortless while not diminishing the strength of her talents as a performer. 

Toni Collette as Annie Graham in Hereditary

Finally, she has just nailed and perfected playing interesting mother figures. I can see aspects of my mom and other mothers I know in my real life while watching her work. Yet I do not want to diminish her skills as an actress by singling this out. Collette never plays a stereotypical mother figure in the genre, instead portrays characters where being a mother is not the sole defining trait of the role. She displays the multi-edged aspect of humanity that makes a character human and fascinating. In addition, they never feel they belong in a binary of “good mothers” or “bad mothers” but struggle with their jobs, duties, fears, and hopes.

There is an inner strength to her mother’s characters that makes them stand out from others in the genre. I always know that Toni Collette will deliver a fantastic performance in the horror genre. Happy Mother’s Day, and make sure to let your mom or mother figure in your life that you love them. 



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