The Autopsy of Jane Doe debuted at the midnight section of the Toronto International Film Festival in September 2016. One of those films that flies under the radar, I first caught Jane Doe a year ago and was instantly impressed upon that first viewing. At that time, The Abominable Dr. Welsh blog did not exist, but this was a film I very much wanted to watch again. It’s also a film I was looking forward to someday reviewing for this blog.
Local police are investigating what appears to be a family dispute gone wrong. During their investigation, they find the body of an unidentified young woman, partially buried in the basement. The sheriff takes the body to the local coroners, Tommy and Austin Tilden, a father and son, who attempt to identify the cause of death. With no injuries or external blemishes, Tommy and Austin uncover one bizarre anomaly after another. Soon the father and son find themselves trapped and confronting supernatural origins for the ‘Jane Doe’ in their autopsy.
Fun, Twisty Story Built on a Fantastic Premise
Based on a screenplay by Ian Goldberg and Richard Naing, The Autopsy of Jane Doe has a fun and unique premise that is absolutely ripe with potential. The body of a young, unknown woman showing no external trauma brought to a coroner’s home office basement is a concept that instantly distinguishes itself from countless other horror films. With countless slasher film reduxes and haunted house films, it’s refreshing to find a horror film willing to deviate and try something different.
There’s a sense of anticipation that accompanies each morbid discovery as you attempt to decipher the identity of ‘Jane Doe’ …
Fortunately, Goldberg and Naing’s script capably builds from that premise and brilliantly navigates a one-setting location mystery. Each step of the autopsy reveals another mystery for the audience to puzzle over. There’s a sense of anticipation that accompanies each morbid discovery as you attempt to decipher the identity of ‘Jane Doe’ and her ’cause of death.’ It’s a well-structured puzzle that doesn’t require a lot of extraneous action – it engages all on its own. As the film winds towards its conclusions, there are a couple of leaps in logic and some expository dialogue that felt a little unnecessary. But this is a minor quibble with an otherwise exceptional story.
Brian Cox and Emile Hirsch – A Compelling Father and Son Team
Limited to largely a single setting, The Autopsy of Jane Doe needed convincing performances and it got it.
The horror elements of The Autopsy of Jane Doe are nicely complemented by the father-and-son relationship in the film. On the one hand, it’s a very simple story of a recently widowed father and the son who feels obligated to stay with him. Yet the simplicity of their story is perfectly brought to life by Brian Cox and Emile Hirsch. Limited to largely a single setting, The Autopsy of Jane Doe needed convincing performances and it got it.
Cox is an underappreciated veteran actor who lends credibility to any project with which he is associated. In The Autopsy of Jane Doe, he delivers a stoic but heartbreaking performance as a lonely man who buries himself in work. Cox is able to take something as simple as the loss of a pet, his last connection to his deceased wife, and wrench out maximum emotional impact with facial expressions and little dialogue. As the dutiful son, Hirsch gives an equally convincing performance, aptly balancing his character’s conflict with the mounting horror of the situation in which finds himself.
Genuine Scares and Haunting Atmosphere
Director Andre Ovredal, who previously helmed the fantastic Troll Hunter, does a fantastic job wringing out every last bit of tension from the screenplay. The Autopsy of Jane Doe is probably best described a quiet and restrained horror film. While there are jump scares liberally spread out over the film, none of them feel forced or telegraphed with loud noises. Ovredal builds these scares from the tension of the film’s scenario and the atmosphere of its setting. The old practice of tying a bell to corpses’ toes, for instance, is exploited for maximum scares. Sound is used subtly to induce chills, from crackling voices in the radio to the most disturbing use of old song, Let the Sunshine In.
Destined to Be a Classic
The Autopsy of Jane is destined to obtain classic, or at least cult classic, status in the future. It stands up to multiple viewings without losing any of its potency or ability to creep you out. Even its mystery elements are just as engaging and fun to immerse one’s self in on the second viewing. Director Orvedal has crafted a modern classic that deserves to been by horror fans.
THE PROFESSOR’S FINAL GRADE: A