Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 26 minutes
MPAA Rating: R for Bloody Horror Violence, Unsettling Grisly Images, Graphic Nudity, and Language
Directed by: Andre Oredal
Written by: Ian Goldberg & Richard Naing
Starring: Emile Hirsch, Brian Cox, Ophelia Lovibond, Michael McElhatton & Olwen Kelly
Five years after entertaining audiences with his found-footage fantasy TROLL HUNTER, director Andre Oredal is back with another genre offering. This time around, he’s entering horror territory and evoking frights with the effectively chilling AUTOPSY OF JANE DOE. This is the first horror film in a quite while that made me jump during its appropriately scary scenes and had my stomach in knots. It’s an eerie little offering that knows when to show the audience nightmare fuel and when to keep its threats in the dark hallways of the morgue. To boot, there’s quality acting and a compelling mystery at the center of this film’s plot.
In a small-town morgue, father-son team Tommy (Brian Cox) and Austin (Emile Hirsch) spend their days taking corpses apart and identifying the causes of death. On one particularly late night, the pair receive an unidentified woman whose cause of death is a complete mystery. In an effort to perform their normal autopsy routine on this abnormal case, Tommy and Austin go about their usual procedures and discover strange irregularities on/in the corpse. As “Jane Doe” (Olwen Kelly) is slowly cut open and taken apart, strange things begin to happen around the morgue and the two men find themselves in an escalating nightmare scenario.
JANE DOE is a horror movie that functions well because Cox and Hirsch’s characters don’t make clichéd horror movie mistakes. There’s your typical build-up to a scare here and there, but these two clearly have their heads on their shoulders. Also, they appropriately try fleeing the morgue when supernatural shit starts hitting the fan…only to find that “Jane” has more in store for them. Speaking of which, the titular body doesn’t reanimate itself and start chasing the pair around. Instead, Olwen Kelly simply plays a lifeless corpse on a slab, whose eerie dead-eyed stare evokes a threatening quality. This makes for a very odd horror antagonist, but one that remains strangely terrifying all the same.
Though it runs a mere 86 minutes, AUTOPSY paces itself with deliberate build-up that slowly unveils small clues that will come back in a big way. For the first 30 minutes, the viewer might easily think that they’ve walked into a particularly chilling true-crime thriller, but then supernatural shenanigans begin and it becomes a full-blown horror story. JANE DOE deserves a lot of praise for its strong atmosphere (brought to life through slick visuals) and keeping its scariest moments regulated to the shadows. As I mentioned before, there are a few pop-up scares here and there, but these bits are more than earned. One of the scariest scenes simply has a bell ringing over and over…because that bell is attached to a disfigured corpse’s foot. When the viewer jumps, they’re jumping at something legitimately frightening and it’s usually accompanied with lots of dread-soaked tension.
JANE DOE isn’t a perfect horror film though, because there’s a noticeable flaw in the conclusion. I really enjoyed the final moments and don’t have complaints with how everything ended, but there’s one annoying exposition dump that sticks out like a sore thumb. Kudos to the filmmaker and screenwriters for taking an unexpected twist that caught me off guard and steadily grows creepier with each passing second that I think about it. However, I wish the strange clues and morbid details were tied together in a way that didn’t involve a character suddenly turning into a morgue’s version of Sherlock Holmes. This info dump felt a bit sudden and sloppy. It also broke one of the key rules of cinema: “Show me, don’t tell me.”
Even with shaky exposition during the final act, THE AUTOPSY OF JANE DOE is a freaky little horror story. The film has quality performances supporting the material, even an impressive one from yoga-pro Olwen Kelly as the titular corpse. She’s so scary and doesn’t breathe for the entire film, convincingly selling her role as a corpse. There’s a dread-soaked atmosphere that makes the viewer uneasy from the get-go. The film also purposely stays away from cheesy moments by executing its best scares with a shadowy less-is-more approach. If you want an unconventional horror flick that goes into unexpected places and will linger after the credits have rolled, THE AUTOPSY OF JANE DOE is for you. Turn off the lights and crank up the sound for maximum effect.