Director – André Øvredal
Cast – Emile Hirsch, Brian Cox, Ophelia Lovibond, Michael McElhatton, Olwen Catherine Kelly
Release Year – 2016
Reviewed by John of the Dead
This film had me beyond excited after viewing its initial trailer. Of all the horror flicks that debuted this year, I only looked forward to The Conjuring 2 more than I did this one. Why? A horror film centered on an autopsy of a Jane Doe intrigued me. Throw in the nowhere-to-run scenario and I was left licking my lips for a few months until it debuted on iTunes (yeah, no wide release). Also, it stars one of my favorite actors, Brian Cox, and to top of it off, this is the American debut for Trollhunter director Andre Ovredal. After viewing this effort I believe we will be seeing more of Ore’s work in the genre as this isn’t just well shot – it’s creepy as hell.
Tommy (Brian Cox; Trick ‘r Treat, Red) and his son Austin (Emile Hirsch; Lone Survivor, Lords of Dogtown, Killer Joe) Tilden are a father-son duo serving as coroners for a rural county. It’s just another night at the morgue until the sheriff delivers a homicide victim found buried in the basement of the home where a family was brutally murdered. With no identity and no apparent cause of death, the mysteriously well-preserved body presents the ultimate challenge for the Tildens. As they carefully work into the night piecing together the woman’s last moments, they begin to uncover disturbing secrets that not only defy science, but put them in the crosshairs of an otherworldly force they never saw coming.
Penned by the writers behind Dead of Season, this story comes with numerous twists and turns that make this a film that sucks you in and refuses to let go. To start, we’re just as in the dark over Jane Doe’s death as the Tildens are, so when they come across a shocking development we share the same fear/excitement. From the moment they cut into her you know that something is not right. Her eyes say she has been dead for quite some time, but her externals are flawless. To make things even more insane, her internals are the polar opposite, showing signs of a violent and drawn-out death. This defies science, as there is no way she could suffer such internal trauma without external cuts and bruises. At the 32 minute mark we get our first taste of trouble afoot when loud banging is heard from outside the barren hallways of the morgue. The writers consistently tease the viewer with these supernatural occurrences and things truly turn for the worst at the 45-minute mark. It doesn’t take long after this for the two to realize they’ve made a huge mistake in taking on the case (though they really had no choice), and from then on out they are pitted in a survival situation, with nowhere to run and against an insurmountable foe.
The writers succeed at including numerous small-yet-effective scares to leave you riddled in goosebumps, and director Andre Ovredal does a damn good job of executing them. To start, his atmosphere is top notch. The sets and locations used provided an already creepy setting that was amplified with Ovredal’s use of lighting. Each scene is adorned with dark shadowy corners and this becomes amplified when the lights go out. Ovredal also relies on sound to scare the viewer, and let me just say that this is the first instance where the ringing of a bell gave me chills. We see lots of live-action effects, especially during the autopsy scenes, and full-frontal execution made these scenes shocking. With each unveiling of Jane Doe’s body comes a chill that grows in severity as they dig deeper and deeper into the mystery. Brian Cox and Emile Hirsch provide good performances and their bond together feels real. With so few characters involved and only one location, the story relied a lot on these actors and they delivered.
So is there anything I don’t like? Not really. My one complaint is that the third act gets a little predictable and doesn’t see things through regarding a certain twist that explains (somewhat) Jane Doe’s purpose. Luckily, everything else about the film is executed so well that I did not care.
Overall, The Autopsy of Jane Doe is a solid horror/thriller sure to please all fans of the genre. I recommend this to those who enjoy supernatural horror and want to experience some chilling scenes.