The Autopsy of Jane Doe Written by Ian B. Goldberg & Richard Naing
Directed by Andre Ovredal
Cast: Emile Hirsch, Brian Cox, Ophelia Lovibond, Olwen Catherine Kelly, Michael McElhatton, Parker Sawyers, Jane Perry IFC Films | 86 Minutes
Release Date: December 21st, 2016
“Doesn’t look like someone broke in; to me it looks like they were trying to break out.”
The Autopsy of Jane Doe opens right at the end of very strong year for horror. There were critical and theatrical hits like The Conjuring 2, Don’t Breathe, and Ouija: Origins of Evil, as well as plenty of noteworthy films uploaded to various streaming sites. I saw the preview for The Autopsy of Jane Doe and it genuinely creeped me out. Directed by Scandinavian filmmaker Andre Ovredal (Trollhunter), The Autopsy of Jane Doe is a claustrophobic, atmospheric, and an overall scary movie that fits comfortably amongst this year’s horror best.
The film opens in Grantham, Virginia at a grisly crime scene with four bodies. Whereas the bodies upstairs are a grisly mess of blood and bullets, the body of young Jane Doe is found naked and seemingly unfazed by trauma, half buried in the basement. The Sheriff (Michael McElhatton) needs answers and needs them quickly. The body is dropped off at the home-office of coroner Tommy Tilden (Brian Cox) and his son and partner Austin (Emile Hirsch), with the request of a cause of death by morning. Tommy is an old fashioned guy. A family business, even a grisly one has it’s quirks. For instance, he ties bells around the toes of the deceased; it was hard to tell coma patients from the dead back in the day he explains to Austin’s girlfriend Emma (Ophelia Lovibond). If you hear jingling, someone is still alive.
The Tildens film their autopsies in stage, external examination, internal exam, organs, brain. They use an old fashioned tripod and video camera and a chalkboard. There is something charming about them. There’s a subplot about Austin possibly leaving the family business, and a lesser film would’ve made this a contentious thing, but director Ovredal handles his actors with class, and the script by Ian B. Goldberg and Richard Naing doesn’t feel cliche or forced. When the titular autopsy begins, they are so precise and follow such a routine, you forget it’s a movie.
There is something terrifyingly beautiful about the actual autopsy. Jane Doe (Olwen Catherine Kelly) has no outward markings, no bruises or scars. Her ankles and wrists are fractured, and her internal organs are scarred and burned. Nothing makes sense, and yet Cox and Hirsch don’t overreact, they simply go through the motions of the procedure. A lesser film, with a lesser cast would’ve turned this into a supernatural monster movie within minutes. Here the director and his actors allow the tension and suspense to build, while dealing with unnatural findings with near normalcy.
For me, the scariest moments are when the camera reminds you of the dead body on the slab. The blankness of Jane’s dead eyes, and the way her mouth hangs agape are just naturally frightening with no extra effort. And Ovredal knows this. The autopsy scene takes its time and the constant flashes back to her dead face gave me chills. As a horror fan, you begin the suspect the inevitable cliches; and much to my delight, most of these never rear their ugly head. You’re left with three characters, one dead, to control the pacing of the film and it just works on almost every level. The first hour of the film is just fantastic as it builds the mystery of what happened to this girl and who she is.
I will not spoil the inevitable reveal of what and who Jane Doe is, but I felt the final act was the weakest part of the film, and not for any reason other than I just loved the autopsy scenes so much. The small setting, the basement of the home, proves to be effective in creating a sense of claustrophobic dread. There is a great scene in which father and son are hiding in an elevator, and they have a great little conversation about their wife/mother. It’s a scene that in another film could feel out of place, but these are high class actors in a well made horror film, and not B-level guys in a sci-fi original movie. Cox and Hirsch’s performances raise this to a higher level. I was invested in their characters, and their relationship as father and son, and thus this pause in the elevator felt authentic and genuine.
Overall, The Autopsy of Jane Doe is a well directed, well paced and tremendously acted horror movie. It works as a mystery as well as a pure horror movie, and the flashes of Jane’s blank dead face is the thing of nightmares. The film is available for streaming on Amazon for $6.99 and is out in theaters now.
In small-town Virginia, police are called to a gruesome crime scene where a family has been massacred in their own house. In the basement, an even more disturbing discovery is made: the partially buried corpse of a nude woman. The cops take this unidentified victim to a small, family-run morgue, where they ask proprietor Tommy Tilden (Brian Cox) to perform an urgent forensic analysis in order to help determine what happened at the blood-stained house. Tommy’s son Austen (Emile Hirsch) cancels a date with his girlfriend (Ophelia Lovibond) in order to help his father perform an autopsy, and the two Tildens set about their grisly examination in the morgue basement.
Working late into the night as they methodically peel back layers of skin, muscle, and bone, Tommy and Austen are baffled by the lack of external signs of trauma on the victim and the alarming extent of her internal injuries. Increasingly perplexed and frustrated by these forensic anomalies, the pair begins to succumb to late-night jitters, getting spooked at apparitions that seem to be lurking in the shadows. As the dread mounts and the atmosphere gets thick with evil, it becomes apparent that the Tildens’ fate is intertwined with a darkness that neither of them can comprehend.
The Autopsy of Jane Doe – Official Trailer I IFC Midnight