The Autopsy of Jane Doe Review: Smart and Scary as Advertised
In 2010, André Øvredal made Trollhunter, the story of a documentary crew that follows a man who hunts trolls. It was a witty, creepy, and fanciful film that was a refreshing twist on the found footage/mockumentary genre. Six years later he is at it again, only this time he gives us an old school horror tale that is as intriguing as it is scary with The Autopsy of Jane Doe.
Brian Cox plays Tommy Tilden, and Emile Hirsch plays his son, Austin. Tommy and Austin run the local mortuary where they perform autopsies on local homicide victims to determine the cause of death. One night, the two receive an unusual victim who appears to have no apparent cause of death and who looks perfectly intact despite having been buried deep in the earth. As the father and son work together to discover what killed the woman, they uncover more and more bizarre clues that begin to reveal the woman’s horrifying secrets.
The Autopsy of Jane Doe is one part mystery, two parts horror, and a whole lot of fun. The script by Ian B. Goldberg and Richard Naing does an excellent job of keeping the mystery around Jane Doe, never revealing any one secret too soon. This helps to keep the audience in the same place of discovery as Austin and Tommy. All are compelled to keep looking for answers while scary events happen with increasing frequency around them. This connection with the two main characters is cemented with the performances of Cox and Hirsch. I thoroughly enjoyed the chemistry between these characters. They felt like a true father and son; from the delivery of their dialog to how comfortably they interacted with one another. I found Brian Cox’s Tommy to be the strongest character and the most entertaining. André Øvredal works in some of the humor that we had seen in Trollhunter while still maintaining a darker tone.
The location they picked helped maintain the tone and overall creepy atmosphere. In particular, Cinematographer Roman Osin’s framing of the long, square corridors gave a very claustrophobic feeling to the mortuary. The poorly lit hallways also suited this ambiance of terror.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the third main character in the film, Jane Doe play by Olwen Catherine Kelly. I give her total respect for what had to be a chilly role, due to the fact that she spent the majority of the film nude and on the autopsy table. She was able to give just a small bit of nuance to her character who, even though she was dead, seemed to have a personality about her. That personality comes into focus as the morticians begin to uncover more of her gory secrets.
The makeup effects in this film are excellent. You could swear they are cutting into a real body and it does not shy away from showing you everything both inside and outside of Jane Doe. There are also some other bodies in the morgue, each with their own gruesome look that is never completely revealed to the audience. André Øvredal reveals just enough of the scary things in the hall or in the corner of the frame without giving you the complete picture. The final piece to providing the overall creep factor to the film is the sound design. There is a particularly effective use of a bell that is sure to raise a few hairs on your arm.
As refreshingly original as the main story is, I will say it does contain a number of standard horror tropes. The jump scares are far enough apart where it does not seem like they are overused. While the film keeps things unpredictable about the true nature of Jane Doe’s death, the fate of the father and son becomes predictable. The very final scene of the film felt a bit cliché but still satisfying.
The Autopsy of Jane Doe plays on the fear of the unknown. Whether it is the unknown cause of death, or concern about a creepy thing in the hallway, or the secrets people keep inside themselves. André Øvredal wraps the audience in this blanket of mystery to hide from the scary things in the dark and then slowly peels it away like the mortician peeling away the skin of the victim. At the end, you have a creepy atmospheric horror mystery that will have the audience coming back for more.