REVIEW: The Autopsy of Jane Doe
– By Dale Saxton
The Autopsy of Jane Doe needs to be seen. It seems to have slipped under the radar during it’s theatrical release, but I implore anyone reading this to grab it on DVD or Bluray. It’s smart, atmospheric and engaging.
The film is boosted by the performances of its leads: Brian Cox and Emile Hirsh. They both play a Father-Son team (Tommy & Austin Tilden) working at a local mortuary in small-town America.
We’re joining the characters during a time in their lives where the generational baton is being passed down. Skills and lessons are being learned and refined.
As they close up one evening, the local sheriff arrives with the unidentified body of a young woman (Jane Doe). Found by the police under mysterious circumstances, they are tasked to give the Sheriff some answers (cause of death) in the same night. Initially seeming pristine, with no outward signs of damage, they only reveal further questions as they open her up. Blackened lungs that would be expected in a body covered in third degree burns. As Brian Cox’s character says, “It’s like finding a bullet in the brain, but with no gunshot wound.”.
It all evokes curiosity. It’s gruesome, but not gory and in your face. It feels grounded and real.
The first half of the movie is a masterclass in setups and character building. What can initially seem like a retread path through the father-son relationship, increasingly deepens and becomes nuanced. It isn’t just unexpected, original writing, but incredible performances, that create these likable life-like characters.
They’re a team you’re on board with, you’re finding things out as they are and you’re rooting for them the whole way. Because of the first half. Without all the setup, the second half would fall even flatter.
As the movie lessens it’s focus on the actual autopsy and to the other ‘goings-on’ in the building, it starts to narrow it’s narrative to the standard jump scare survival horror we’re all accustomed to. Not to say it’s necessarily bad, but after the flawless first half, it’s all the more clear that this is standard fare.
Just as the third act starts to gear up in the final minutes of the film, in which Emile Hirsh seemed to reincarnate as Ash from The Evil Dead, it ends. It felt like more was to come. It felt full of potential. But it ends as a strong film, rather than a modern masterpiece.
Make no mistake, this film is one of the best horrors to come out of 2016. It needs supporting, as all good horror does, to further this standard.
André Øvredal, the director, has really made something special here. And I remember way back in 2011, shaking his hand at a screening of his previous film Trollhunter (which I heartily recommend), and I could never have predicted he’d pull this out next. Don’t leave it so long for the next film, ey?