UK Release Date: 31st March 2017
Runtime: 85 minutes
Director: André Øvredal
Writer: Ian Goldberg, Richard Naing
Starring: Emile Hirsch, Brian Cox, Olwen Catherine Kelly, Ophelia Lovibond, Michael McElhatton
Synopsis: A father and son team of coroners face a long night in isolation when a mysterious, almost perfectly preserved body is brought in for an urgent examination and yields plenty of unusual secrets.
It has been something of a mixed year for horror movies so far, with the brilliance of the searing Get Out juxtaposed against the sheer hideousness of The Bye Bye Man. The next genre installment out of the door in 2017 is The Autopsy of Jane Doe, in which Norwegian filmmaker André Øvredal leaves behind the found footage of Trollhunter for something far more stripped-down and minimalist. His film is set almost entirely within a single room and, as a result, it’s a really solid example of how effective horror can be without having to do anything other than hint at darkness.
Austin (Emile Hirsch) is ready to leave the morgue for the day, where he works with his father Tommy (Brian Cox), to take his girlfriend Emma (Ophelia Lovibond) out on a date. It’s then that the local police chief bursts in with the eponymous unidentified corpse (Olwen Catherine Kelly), which has been recovered from the basement of a house in which a series of horrifying murders had taken place. The police are demanding answers by the morning, so the duo roll up their sleeves to begin the autopsy. They soon discover that there are a series of very unusual things at play here and decide that this is no ordinary dead body.
The Autopsy of Jane Doe is an efficiently creepy horror movie put together with real finesse and elegance by director Øvredal. It’s a precision-tooled tale that makes the most of its gloomy, cramped single location to create a real sense of isolation and dread. The film conveys a real sense of creeping horror throughout, with the mystery building in stark contrast to the blank expression on the face of the title character. Kelly’s prone body serves as a mystery box that poses a multitude of questions, which the film is able to answer – albeit with a twist that is less original than the audience would likely hope.
The film’s stripped-down nature means that it relies almost entirely upon the two stellar central performances from Emile Hirsch and Brian Cox. Cox’s single-minded focus on the task at hand is compelling and Hirsch is the perfect way in for the audience to this world of bone-sawing and gallows humour. There isn’t an enormous amount of room for the film to build much in the way of characters, but the dichotomy between helping with the family business and a desire to spread his youthful wings, gives Hirsch character at least a skeleton of motivation.
Away from the performances, the true star of The Autopsy of Jane Doe is the sound design. This is a movie that has great attention to detail with its practical gore effects, but the best elements come from the crunching, creaking and squelching conjured up as the coroners take apart the titular body. It’s these effects that create a real sense of immersion and give the film an edge, reminding you consistently that this is a human being who is being taken apart and not merely a prop.
The Autopsy of Jane Doe cycles through all of the loud noises, flickering lights and dark corridors of the horror playbook, but Øvredal is incredibly accomplished in his execution of those tropes. It all builds to a somewhat underwhelming twist but, as with many scary movies, it’s the journey that really matters and this one will make you shiver.
Pop or Poop?
Packed with crunchy sound effects and accomplished direction, The Autopsy of Jane Doe is a rock solid horror movie. It’s a little unsatisfying in the final third and it certainly doesn’t break new ground, but strong performances and an impressive set of scares ensure that this is a film that really accomplishes its goal of scaring the audience silly.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.