THE AUTOPSY OF JANE DOE (2016)
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Spooky flick tells of the unidentified corpse of a young women (Olwen Kelly) found buried in the cellar of a house that is already the scene of two gruesome deaths. The body is turned over to Tommy (Brian Cox) and Austin Tilden (Emile Hirsch), who are a father and son team of coroners who run their own morgue. The autopsy of this “Jane Doe” is most perplexing. On the outside her body seems perfect, yet as they explore deeper, her insides appear to show signs the women was horribly tortured. Add to that mysterious ritualistic symbols found on a cloth inside her body, the Tildens are getting deeper into a mystery they are having trouble solving. Worse still, the further they examine the women’s body, the more it seems some kind of malevolent presence has been unleashed. Who was this woman and what evil has entered their morgue through her?
Entertaining and chilling flick is written by Ian Goldberg and Richard Naing and directed by Trollhunter director André Øvredal and has a novel premise with it’s story of an autopsy, first causing a mystery for it’s examiners and then releasing some spooky supernatural goings on. The film is well directed by Øvredal who slowly builds tension and atmosphere as our father/son duo dig deeper into examining the corpse of this women and everything they find defies logic and science. At first it appears to just be a crime thriller about an unusual cause of death, but slowly becomes something darker and more unnatural as we proceed. Once things go fully supernatural, the film is quite spooky and delivers some nice chills till the unnerving final moments. If anything holds the film back, it’s that the big reveal doesn’t seem to quite fit comfortably with the rest of the film. The explanation is full blown supernatural/fantasy and while it is surprising, it doesn’t seem to mesh well with a film that began as scientific investigation. The autopsy performed may have been delivering information that made no sense to our main characters, but the shift from scientific mystery to a full blown, and very familiar, occult/supernatural explanation is a bit jarring, even though the supernatural occurrences that were building as a result of their examination do work well. The otherworldly elements were being slowly mixed in, it’s just that the actually reveal is a bit ‘out there’ considering how grounded the film starts out. It doesn’t sink the film, it just seems to unbalance the mix of science and supernatural that was working well till this point. That and our two examiners seem to accept the supernatural a bit too quickly for men who have based their careers in scientific investigation. The film is, overall still effective and chilling, it’s just that perhaps something a bit more clever was expected where the answer we get is very old school horror. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, it’s just we were hoping for something less common for a horror flick, due to the intriguing set-up. Obviously, also expect some gore due to the nature of the story and it is rendered well.
The cast is small. Save for a few supporting characters that make brief appearances, like Austin’s girlfriend (Ophelia Lovibond) and the local sheriff (Michael McElhatton), it’s all Cox and Hirsch who are very good. Cox is a veteran and has turned in many a good performance and he is solid here as Tommy Tilden. He is a medical man and a man of science who is diving deeper into a mystery that challenges his scientific beliefs. He seems to accept the supernatural explanation a little too quickly, though, for a man whose career is based in facts, but that is the script and not the actor, who is first rate here. Hirsch is equally good. His character accepts that something unnatural is going on here much quicker and the actor conveys well a young man willing to accept something supernatural is occurring, as his veteran father takes a bit longer to believe this is not science they are dealing with. The two actors have a good chemistry and are believable as father and son. It makes the film click that these two are so convincing in their roles. As for poor Olwen Kelly, the actress plays a corpse and appears to have been quite a trooper playing the entire part completely nude and remaining perfectly still while be poked and prodded by the two leads. Using a real person here, instead of a prosthetic, adds to the effectiveness.
So, it’s not perfect, but still effective and entertaining. It has a clever premise and the director builds the story nicely along with some strong atmosphere and some very spooky sequences. I may not have been completely onboard with the big reveal, as it seemed to tilt the balance of science and supernatural more into familiar horror flick territory, when something more inventive or unexpected was what one was waiting for. Overall, definitely worth a watch and for the most part, a very spooky flick that only slightly disappoints when it set us up with such an intriguing mystery and solves it with something a little too familiar.