The Autopsy of Jane Doe (2016)

Cast: Brian Cox, Emile Hirsch, Ophelia Lovibond

Director: André Øvredal

Synopsis: Brian Cox and Emile Hirsch star as father and son coroner team who receive a mysterious homicide victim with no apparent cause of death. As they attempt to identify this beautiful and young “Jane Doe,” they discover more and more bizarre clues that hold the key to her terrifying secrets.

Review: 

Director André Øvredal follows his 2010 cult thriller hit Trollhunter with his first foray into English language films. This terrifying horror movie brings back the spookiness of movies from days gone by with implied scares in abundance and good use of the audience’s own imagination. Excellent screenwriting, coupled with Øvredal’s minimal use of special effects and without the current day’s seeming reliance on continual gruesome gore, makes this film a testament to fear right from the start.

As always, Brian Cox uses his brilliant acting skills to play the part of father coroner with such skill that he truly is believable as the friendly patriarch endeavouring to pass on his vast knowledge to his son Austin (Hirsch). In return, Emile Hirsch plays the part of a typical son learning his father’s craft, despite repeated clues that Austin is not quite as passionate about the trade as his father. Ophelia Lovibond plays Emma, Austin’s girlfriend. Although playing a more minor role in this film, Lovibond does an excellent job of convincing us that she is a small town American woman, despite being of British descent and having a large fan base from her role in Elementary.

The Autopsy of Jane Doe proves to be an entertaining film from start to finish. Drawing on the traditional horror genre, the movie starts out creepy and builds onto that right until the very end. Instead of relying on copious amounts of blood and gore as is often seen in the horror films of today, the film draws on the audience’s imagination to make an already scary scenario (two people working alone in an old, labyrinthine morgue in the basement of a building) a terrifying one. However, do not get me wrong. There is gore. There is blood. But what this movie brings to the table is psychological terror circa horror films of the 1980s and 1990s. Jane Doe, played by Olwen Kelly, had clearly been horribly tortured INSIDE her body prior to her death and was then murdered. The condition of the inside of her body elevates the uneasiness the audience feels as unexplained things begin to happen inside the morgue. The autopsy is stomach-turning realistic, and it is this attention to detail, coupled with the excellent character development, that makes the movie more terrifying and personal. The audience is immediately drawn into that run down basement and feels a true connection to the duo and the horror they are experiencing.

The effective use of lighting and set design brings the audience into a spooky old basement with seemingly endless hallways that makes the viewer feel continuously lost. Minimal fluorescent lighting helps the audience experience the terror the characters are experiencing without requiring significant use of CGI or simulated special effects, and the audience’s own imagination adds to the psychological fear everyone feels. An old radio that plays periodically in the background adds to the macabre tone of the film and contributes to the jump scare scenes throughout.  The often conspicuous LACK of overpowering music only helps to create this atmosphere as the audience can plainly hear the cutting, sawing and cracking of bones and other disturbing sounds resulting from the autopsy of Jane.

As is typical of the horror movie genre, the movie is relatively short, clocking in at 1 hour and 26 minutes. Despite the short time frame, the well-developed relationship and easy dialogue between Cox and Hirsch keep the audience engaged and the movie does not feel too short to progress appropriately. The first hour of the movie sets the audience up for the frenzied climax in the last 26 minutes, which, unfortunately, proves to be somewhat of a disappointment to me. Without spoiling the final act for you, I felt that the final 26ish minutes reverted more to the typical horror movie frenzied ending, but with a soft sort of conclusion. This change in direction may have been done to speed up the ending to keep time and costs down, or perhaps it ended as it did to keeps itself open for a sequel.

With amazing performances from both Emile Hirsch and Brian Cox, The Autopsy of Jane Doe proved to be a welcome addition to 2016’s horror movie releases and was a movie that I thoroughly enjoyed. Even though it was a lesser known release that fell close to Christmas and yet another Star Wars movie, it proved to be an excellent addition to Ødreval’s movie resume. Even seasoned horror movie watchers should find this movie scary enough to make you want to sleep with the lights on. Despite its more lacklustre ending, this is a captivating movie well worth watching, with a perfect mix of supernatural thriller and visceral horror. I give this movie a solid 4 Wheels Up!

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 4 Wheels Up!