John’s Horror Corner: The Autopsy of Jane Doe (2016), so creepy and worth it just for the outstanding premise.
MY CALL: This intellectualized mysterious autopsy film procures an outstanding premise in the first half, followed by a somewhat random second half that doesn’t measure up. Take that for what it is, watch it anyway, and temper your expectations. It’s pretty damn neat. MORE MOVIES LIKE The Autopsy of Jane Doe: After.Life (2009), Unrest (2006), Deadgirl (2008).
After the mysterious body of a dead girl is found half-buried but otherwise unscathed in the basement of a brutally murdered elderly couple, the cadaver is passed to the care of father and son coroners Austin (Emile Hirsch; The Darkest Hour, Into the Wild) and Tommy (Brian Cox; Troy, Trick ‘r Treat, The Ring).
Director André Øvredal (Trollhunter) is a master of atmosphere and characters—and it shows. The opening murder scene is calm yet dire, and we are transitioned to the playfully light-hearted father-son apprenticeship, complete with endearingly quizzical learning experiences cast over a gory burnt corpse. These two are very close and it’s obvious. I love that. They bring a positive and dynamic energy enhanced by the film’s soundtrack.
As they begin the autopsy of their Jane Doe (Olwen Catherine Kelly), there are numerous medical anomalies; oddly small waist, curiously cloudy eyes, cold body temp but no rigor mortis, a severed tongue, bleeding… But that’s hardly the beginning. The weirdness continues to be laid on thick as Tommy provides fleetingly thin hypotheses to explain one extremely rare oddity after another—any one of which alone would give a cadaver quite an unusual story to tell. So, what story does Jane Doe’s body have to tell? And why does her seemingly fresh body not externally match what is internally suggested?
There is a lot of nudity but it is not at all sultry. This is about an autopsy, after all—it’s not like they do these with the body clothed. And not to such extent as, perhaps, a Saw film, but the gore was medically visceral. As strange internal tissue trauma is discovered we have a front row seat to lacerated organs, flaps of tissue, and the crunching sound of cutting through a ribcage. It might make you moderately uncomfortable, but in a good way.
Theories will fire wildly in your head as you watch this. Is she a vampire, a victim of some torture or ritual, a demon or undead thing, a vessel containing a demon…something else entirely? You’ll wonder even more as strange things begin to happen inside the mortuary. They are not subtle, and rouse unease.
When in doubt: burn it.
I was very entertained by this film and found the first 30-40 minutes to be absolutely outstanding. However, I cannot say the same for the ensuing hour, which felt like a very different and completely inferior film. Our once thoughtful and rational characters, all of a sudden, lost their intellect and wisdom and don’t even bat an eye at the most alarming things; they were basically written like dummies for the last 40 minutes. Not scared people who, thus, stopped thinking straight—but dummies. I’m not really sure what happened. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t hate the second half…but if you told me that an entirely different (and far less capable) director and writer did the second half of the film, I’d completely believe it. It’s like the first 30-40 minutes was written as an exquisitely mysterious short story with a cliff hanger…and then it was forced into a feature length script that had to build another 60 pages to try and explain everything.
But for the fantastic novelty and mystery of the first half, I remain overall quite pleased and still highly recommend this. Just temper your expectations accordingly.