Director André Øvredal/2016
André Øvredal gained a small following with his film Trollhunter, and now he is back with a film that should continue to build on his reputation. While The Autopsy of Jane Doe is a small film, it pays big dividends for those who are able to find one of the very limited screenings at places like the Alamo Drafthouse or other select theaters. That is not to say that the film is not without its problems, but on the whole, Øvredal delivers a very unexpected surprise with this effectively creepy story.
Emile Hirsch plays Austin Tilden, a licensed medical examiner who works with his father Tommy (Brian Cox) as coroners. When the police are called to investigate a mysterious death where a man’s body was found looking as if he were trying to break out of his own house, they also discovered the body of a woman buried in the basement, under dirt, with no visible trauma. They bring this mystery woman, or Jane Doe, with no identification, to the Tilden’s place of business so that they can perform an autopsy and provide answers, as soon as possible, to satisfy the news media who are closely following this case.
That is not to say that the film is not without its problems, but on the whole, Øvredal delivers a very unexpected surprise with this effectively creepy story.
Early on, we are given a glimpse of the meticulous nature of the Tildens as they carefully exam a body while looking for the cause of death. Tommy, who is serving as a mentor to his son in the business, is shown to be able to look past the typical, or obvious reasons, in order to see details that others might miss. This is just the kind of skill one might need for a body being brought in with no visible signs of trauma.
The Autopsy of Jane Doe proceeds for the first 20 minutes as a compelling murder mystery, reminiscent of a show like C.S.I. where our protagonists are looking for clues to determine what happened to the bodies they examine, without getting hung up on the ‘why’ it happened. That is the Police’s job we are told. Once the police bring in their ‘Jane Doe’, however, all bets are off, as very strange things begin to take place.
One such thing is that the radio begins to randomly come on and off, and what makes this even more creepy is that it is mostly the song “Open up Your Heart (and Let the Sun Shine In)” by Kitty Wells that will begin playing, with the ever so ominous lyrics, “My mommy told me something that every kid should know. It’s all about the Devil…”
The film then turns from C.S.I. into a horror film, with the meticulous nature of these coroners, that we witnessed from the first act, fueling the tension for the remainder of the film as each clue they learn from the autopsy drives them deeper into this supernatural terror. Now, this could have easily become a standard horror film with the typical jump scares that have been used ad nauseam in so many recent films. Fortunately, for us, André Øvredal does not paint by numbers with his camera, and the result is the feel of a much more original film, with something new to say.
Olwen Catherine Kelly plays the ‘Jane Doe’ and does a remarkable job portraying a dead girl for large periods of time. It has been reported that she was cast for her dedication to yoga, and how yoga helped her control her breathing so as to appear dead throughout the entire film. This is a skill which is very important, especially when one is playing a cadavar.
The Autopsy of Jane Doe, is not for the squeamish. It is a film that isn’t afraid to get it’s hands dirty, turning an unflinching camera on the autopsy proceedings daring you to watch lest you miss a vital clue. It is also effectively scary. When you remember that most morgues have random bodies in the freezer, your mind will begin to see the possibilities of terror, at the director’s disposal, as this story progresses.
The set is, on one-hand, extremely claustrophobic with its tight spaces and small rooms. It is also quite expansive with its vast labyrinth of hallways, doors, mirrors, and one elevator that sits amidst it all. The camera angles that are utilized allow the director to really maximize the space they are confined in, while still providing the needed tension that the audience craves, and the story needs.
If there is a weak point, it would be that the big reveal of both “what” is happening, and “why” is never fully formed. There is enough to explain the strange occurrences, but not enough to hang your hat on.
The Autopsy of Jane Doe is a small, international and independent horror film that should play well in a place like The AlamoDraft House, which creates its own vibe and atmosphere. If you can find it, it will provide you with just enough fun that is worthy ‘dying for’.
This film is in limited release already, and will come out in Houston, Texas at the Alamo Draftouse on Friday, January 13, 2017.