The Autopsy of Jane Doe (2016)
“Everybody has a secret; some just hide it better than others” (Tommy in “The Autopsy of Jane Doe”).
André Øvredal, better known for well-received “Troll Hunter” (2010), here presents “The Autopsy of Jane Doe”, the kind of a horror film which provides one with an instant “horror” gratification. It has enough good scares, from hard-to-stomach surgical images to frightening otherworldly encounters, and an interesting story setting to keep things interesting until very end. Here, father Tommy and son Austin, medically-qualified pathologists, receive a new corpse at their family-run business to establish a cause of death. The corpse belongs to an unknown young woman who was found at a multiple murder crime scene. As she is unknown, she is assigned a name Jane Doe, and the two begin their work on her swiftly, only to discover later that Jane hides too many mysteries. As the weather outside of their home worsens, father and son soon realise that they got much more on their hands than they bargained for, and what, on the first glance, begins like a routine autopsy may actually result in something very different.
An autopsy can prove very effective when used in horror, because it appeals to our morbid fascination with death and corpses. From gruesomeness of dead bodies in Fincher’s “Seven” (1995) to scientific detachment of a pathologist’s work in Landesman’s “Concussion” (2015), many films just cannot pass by an opportunity to show off an ample, well-dissected body, or the precision and coolness of an autopsy procedure. In this film, it is used as effectively, and, besides, here, it is the autopsy of a beautiful young woman, who is meant to be dissected by two men. These two men start their autopsy in a nonchalant way: with the sound of rock music in the background, and the only thing they have seemingly forgotten to do was to whistle while they are at it. The strange thing here is that the dead young woman looks very much alive, especially when Austin pries her eyes open. And, if the graphic images of the internal organs was not enough of a shock for the audience, the duo soon find the very surprising state of Jane Doe’s organs.
Stylishly presented, “The Autopsy of Jane Doe” sets the atmosphere of unease and apprehension masterfully. The camera repeatedly shows off well-decorated wooden interiors of a dimly light corridor of the house where the duo work, accentuating the tension, before focusing on doors cracking, drawers mysteriously opening seemingly on their own and a radio flickering. These subtle moments in the beginning of the film are what make this film so creepy. To deal with dead bodies may be scary in itself, but when one starts to hear strange noises and see unexplained phenomena all around, it becomes really frightening. To top it all off, Tommy and Austin’s autopsy does not go according to plan, and amidst all the swearing and cursing, animal lovers among the audience may also want to look the other way later on.
The cast does a good job. Brian Cox (“Braveheart” (1995)) in the role of Tommy, the father, is a man rooted in wisdom and practicality, initially sceptical about any mystical explanations for any phenomenon. Emile Hirsch (“Milk (2008)), who I always thought strikingly resembles Daniel Brühl (“Goodbye, Lenin!” (2003)), is also good in the role of a rookie pathologist who is torn between his love interest Emma (Ophelia Lovibond) and his duty to help out a family business (Tilden Morgue and Crematorium, established circa 1919).
The problem here is that some of the film’s elements are very under-thought. The film starts with a mysterious crime committed in a suburban house as the camera circles rooms, but we never get to know how in particular these murders relate to the case of Jane Doe. Moreover, there is a talk about the mother of Austin between Austin and Tommy, but, apart from instilling confusion, the talk leads to nowhere. Perhaps, a sequel is in order to “correct” these instances, but the film also lays down all its cards too early on in the film, relies on too many horror clichés later on in the story, and the final act loses its momentum completely. The film’s final part just gets too gory, traumatic and unbelievable, and does not sit well with the slow, deliberate and totally suspenseful beginning.
“The Autopsy of Jane Doe” may not meet all the viewers’ expectations, because the idea behind the final act is under-thought, and the film ends up combining too many horror effects, from ghostly encounters to medieval rituals. However, the film really hits the mark with the style and presentation. The first part of the film creates the atmosphere of sheer suspense and hidden terror, boasting a great use of music and nice twists along the way. Given this, “The Autopsy of Jane Doe” is a decent horror movie overall, and is recommended for anyone who is into good scares. 7/10