While André Øvredal broke out onto the scene with his successful horror comedy Trollhunter, he takes a far more chilling, straight forward horror approach with his first English language feature. Opening to a grisly crime scene in a suburban Virginia home, the cops are stumped. The house shows no forced signs of entry, yet the interior contains the remains of a brutal bloodbath. The residents have been violently slain, and there’s a mysterious body half buried found in the home’s basement. Even more puzzling than the massacre that occurred in the typically quiet neighborhood is this mysterious body; the dead woman shows no exterior trauma or signs of what caused her death. Knowing answers will be demanded soon, Sheriff Sheldon brings the corpse of the mysterious Jane Doe to the Tilden’s; a father and son coroner team. As they begin their autopsy to discern her cause of death, they soon realize that some secrets are better left buried.
Tony Tilden (Brian Cox) and son Austin Tilden (Emile Hirsch) have an easy rapport. Tony is eager to teach his son everything his knows on his trade, and while Austin might not be so eager to fill Dad’s shoes, it’s clear he wants to support his father. He even sends his girlfriend Emma (Ophelia Lovibond) away to postpone their date for a few hours the moment Jane Doe is brought into the morgue. Though it’s Jane Doe’s death that serves as the film’s focal point, it’s the death of Tony’s wife and Austin’s mom that looms over them. She died two years prior to the events of the film, but the narrative hints that it was due to a depression that neither father or son knew existed. Tony can’t let go, and Austin remains hesitant to leave his father. It’s this emotional backstory that not only connects us with our leads, but provides much of the characters’ drive. It also lends a melancholic undercurrent and a wealth of subtext.
As for the titular autopsy itself, it’s graphic and detailed. You should expect this based on the title alone, but if getting up close and personal with a corpse’s organs and body parts makes you squeamish, this is your warning. Tony and Austin soon discover that Jane Doe’s interior holds a lot more signs of trauma than her exterior, and the more of her secrets they uncover, the more that strange events begin to happen within the confines of their morgue and crematorium.
Øvredal wisely created a very creepy atmosphere long before Jane Doe’s presence, and things only get creepier as the film progresses. Between the unnerving and puzzling nature of the autopsy itself, the spooky setting of the basement morgue, and the chilling occurrences that continue to escalate in frequency, the film will manage to get under the skin of even the well-seasoned horror fan. Much credit should also go to Olwen Catherine Kelly as Jane Doe. As the mysterious dead girl who spends much of the running time on an autopsy table, you’d think her job would be easy. Yet, she gives Jane Doe an ethereal, almost menacing existence that elevates the supernatural horror.
The final act deflates a bit of the building terror of the first two acts as it becomes a bit too heavy with delivering exposition. Most viewers will also likely piece together or have a hunch on where the story is going as well. Yet, that doesn’t make it any less impactful or unnerving. It’s a clever script with two extremely amiable, talented leads, and a film that really delivers on the chills. It’s also a film so rich in details that it warrants multiple viewings. Øvredal has knocked it out of the park again with his English-language follow up, and I can’t wait to see what he does next. The Autopsy of Jane Doe will be out later this year on VOD and in theaters; add this to your radar now. It’s a much watch for horror fans.
Rating: 8 out of 10
About the Author
Meagan Navarro is a blogger from Houston, TX. She fell in love with monsters at age four after being exposed to them via Ghostbusters, and her passion grew into an obsession for all things horror and Halloween (which is the entire month of October, as far as she’s concerned). Meagan also loves traveling and chocolate. Follow me on twitter: @HauntedMeg