UK Release Date: 26th June 2017
Runtime: 85 minutes
Director: André Øvredal
Writer: Ian Goldberg, Richard Naing
Starring: Emile Hirsch, Brian Cox, Olwen Catherine Kelly, Ophelia Lovibond
Synopsis: A father and son team of coroners face a long night in isolation when a mysterious body is brought in for an urgent examination.
Back in April, indie horror movie The Autopsy of Jane Doe – now out on DVD and Blu-ray in the UK – served as a surprising low-budget delight. It’s a classically mounted throwback of a film that marks a more traditional mode of storytelling for director André Øvredal, who is best known for the unusual found footage movie Trollhunter. On a second viewing, this cramped single-location chiller comes alive even more than it did the first time – packing a terrifying punch in every scene.
Father and son coroner duo Tommy (Brian Cox) and Austin (Emile Hirsch) find themselves trapped in the morgue for the night when the sheriff brings in an unidentified corpse (Olwen Catherine Kelly) found beneath a murder scene. As they cut into the body, they discover a series of mysterious details that suggest the cause of death may be something that neither coroner has ever seen before.
The star of The Autopsy of Jane Doe is not Brian Cox or Emile Hirsch, but Øvredal. His direction is absolutely masterful, ratcheting up the tension in every scene and earning each and every jump scare he chooses to deploy. He assembles a film that is all about the horror of serenity and the inherent terror lurking behind the stationary, unblinking visage of Olwen Kelly. Øvredal knows exactly how to craft the story and exhibits real patience in building to his set pieces with elegant precision. Unlike so many recent horror movies, there are chills here that remain long after the jump scares.
Øvredal is aided throughout The Autopsy of Jane Doe by some stellar work from the team behind the way the film sounds. Every squelch of skin and organs and every cut through solid bone is keenly felt by the audience and the score is amplified at just the right time to match the building drama. The silence of the opening scenes is contrasted with the bombast and chaos of the final act, which pays off the serenity of Kelly’s face with the anarchy she is able to cause. Even the occasional ringing of a tiny bell is responsible for some of the most chilling horror movie scenes of the year so far.
Also welcome is the camaraderie between Cox and Hirsch. Both performers are at the top of their game here, giving surprising depth to the characters even as they take apart the body of a woman. We learn plenty about their prickly, but loving relationship and this gives real heft to moments of peril involving the duo later in the story. There’s a history here that the film teases out without the need for enormous exposition dumps that would interrupt the tension of the horror. A final scene between Cox and Kelly’s prone body evokes that character’s parental love with a real gut punch on the way to a genuinely nasty finale.
From a plotting perspective, there’s little to The Autopsy of Jane Doe that we haven’t seen before. It’s a pretty steadfastly traditional horror tale with strict adherence to convention, but it executes these conventions so well that it’s difficult not to be swept along by the story. It culminates in a twist that’s not exactly earth-shattering, but contextualises the previous events and sets the table for a spine-tingling climax that ensures the film leaves a real impression when the credits roll.
Pretty slim pickings, with just five minutes of a director Q&A to enjoy.
Pop or Poop?
The Autopsy of Jane Doe is one of the year’s best horror movies to date, combining the stripped-down chills of a single scary location with a building tension enhanced by some crunchy and compelling sound design. On a second viewing, the scares don’t fade away and the true mastery of Øvredal’s direction is even more pronounced.
Brian Cox and Emile Hirsch are able to craft believable characters thrust into a terrifying predicament and Olwen Kelly manages to exude menace without ever moving a muscle.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.
The Autopsy of Jane Doe is available on Blu-ray and DVD in the UK now, courtesy of Lionsgate.