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Toni Collette talks of why horror appeals

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This image released by A24 shows Toni Collette in a scene from "Hereditary." (A24 via AP)

It's been almost two decades since Toni Collette starred in The Sixth Sense.

The Australian actor, 45, was nominated for an Oscar for her turn as the mother of a young boy who sees dead people.

Now she is returning to the supernatural genre for her new film Hereditary, about a family battling malevolent forces that are trying to colonise their bloodline. It has already been hailed as one of the scariest films in years.

"I was sent this script and I was like, 'I'm going to have to do this' because it was just so brilliantly written," Collette says.

"It feels very fresh, very original, very raw and very surprising and I think as an actor and as an audience member that's what you want."

Collette plays artist Annie Graham, whose mother's death from cancer prompts her family to unravel cryptic secrets about their ancestry.

The result blends horror, dread and a deeply unnerving fear of the unknown.

"I just loved it," the Muriel's Wedding star says, "and then when I met Ari Aster, who wrote and directed Hereditary, he was just very clearly in control of what he was doing.

"He had such a vivid, strong, clear vision and I felt very much like I could trust him.

"I had to be very vulnerable as an actor and he was just so dedicated and aware of every single nuance in the movie and just completely married to the story.

"So when you have a director like that it makes you feel that you can try anything."

Some audiences have reacted so strongly to the film that there has even been crying and screaming in screenings, but all that is good news for Collette.

"It just means that they're drawn into the story, because in so many films you are able to sit back and not be a part of it.

"The point of storytelling is to be able to be absorbed by it, and I guess that's happening successfully, so that's a great thing.

"But there are moments of levity in the film and they come about naturally.

"I don't know whether Ari intended them or not because we all played it completely straight but maybe it was written in there."

The reaction has been so positive that it has become that rare thing - a horror film generating Oscar buzz.

"It's really flattering," she says modestly. "I'm just excited that people are excited about a movie and want to see it, to be honest.

VIDEO WARNING: Scary themes!

If the world is a scary and uncertain place, why are audiences still flocking to see terrifying tales?

"Maybe because it's worse than reality?" Collette suggests.

"But I think this isn't just a straight genre film. I think it's a combination of things, and I think that's probably something people are attracted to in this one.

"It's very much about a family that's grieving and there's a real honesty to it, as well as being horrific."

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