The Autopsy of Jane Doe (2016) Review!!!

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Synopsis – A father and son, both coroners, are pulled into a complex mystery while attempting to identify the body of a young woman, who was apparently harboring dark secrets.

My Take – I love horror films of the 70s! Back then films used to have genuine scene-settings, story building, audience engagement, and believed in providing full-tilt creepiness unlike modern films that are concerned only with gimmicks & cheap scares. Here, this Norwegian director Andre Ovredal in his first English-language film has applied almost each & every great craftsmanship of previous horror film-making so skillfully that you are not only going to see just another good or passable horror flick set around an awesomely interesting premise! Andre Ovredal’s previous film ‘Trollhunter’ was a surprise hit back in 2010, nobody (myself included) expected a film about giant trolls to be anything other than a cheap B film, but it was actually quite good and very entertaining. Here too, through the effective use of half light, sound, smoke & shadow this time he has created an utterly eerie & unsettling atmosphere by revealing not too much but by toying with the viewer’s imagination from start to finish. This film really succeeds is in doing something a lot of modern horror has forgotten about i.e. toy with the viewers imagination and create an uneasy feeling out of its narrative. This is not to say you don’t get to see anything grotesque or unsettling, as certain scenes are not for the squeamish. The story follows father and son, Tommy Tilden (Brian Cox) and Austin Tilden (Emile Hirsch), both coroners, who receive the body of a unidentified beautiful woman, who the police nick name Jane Doe (Olwen Kelly) who was found by Sheriff Sheldon (Michael McElhatton) and his team buried in the basement of murdered family. Confused by the presence of the body in a crime scene it does not belong to, the sheriff requests Tommy to stay in late & find some answers. Even though, Austin has plans to be at the film theatre with his girlfriend Emma (Ophelia Lovibond), he decides to stay back with his old father & finish up quickly as the weather outside keeps getting worse.

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Along the night, as they begin their examination, a mountain of contradictions and inconsistencies arise. The corpse has no visible signs of trauma, no rigor mortis. The eyes are cloudy, something that only happens when the body has been dead for a few days. When they make the Y-incision, the corpse bleeds profusely, something that only happens when a corpse is fresh. Her tongue has been non-surgically removed; her ankles and wrists are shattered. One of her teeth is missing, which they later find in a hex bag in her stomach. Her lungs are charred, and her organs imply repeated stabbing. Her vagina is mutilated and when they pull the skin away from her rib- cage, they find strange symbols tattooed on her skin. As the Tildens keep disclosing weird and creepy secrets about Jane Doe, they realize they are in for something more than they bargained for. The premise is definitely interesting, I was hooked right off the bat, I wanted to find out more about the body and the film did a good job of revealing things slowly to increase the tension. I also liked the characters, it’s rare that you see a father & son as the leads in a horror film; it worked well and added some emotion to the film. The first half of the film focuses on the various, sometimes chilling, aspects of the external and internal examination. The seconds half is when lights go off and things go bump in the dark. Halfway through, a storm blows in, and the lights go out, and the film takes a sudden turn into intense supernatural terror which may seem like Øvredal might not be rewriting the horror rule book in the ensuing scenes, but he’s clearly studied it closely, using the dark corners and claustrophobic spaces of the Tildens’ wood-paneled basement—which also serves as the work space for the family business—alongside effective sound design to create a handful of moments of heart-stopping dread. (One sequence in particular recalls the elevator scene in Re-Animator, but way more intense.) Creating that sort of tension requires control; a discipline that’s also reflected in the film’s carefully composed shots, simple-yet-detailed costume and set design, and rich, stylized color palette. What makes this film so intriguing is that it really moves like a roller coaster. Just when you think it’s heading one way and fits a genre, it flips on you and takes you in another direction. These sorts of unexpected plot shifts kept things interesting and defied my expectations. André Øvredal directs this close quartered film with limited room for our actors to breathe once the tension unfolds – He makes great use of this tension by placing the camera in dark areas allowing us to truly feel the weight of the actors. I think if you are a fan of well paced films you will enjoy this one. For its entire formal rigor, however, the film could stand to think outside the box when it comes to its narrative flourishes. One minor character clearly telegraphs the time and place of their demise when they first appear early on in the film—one of several convenient narrative contrivances used to drive the plot forward.  With its long, lingering shots of scalpels slice into human flesh, hands digging through viscera, and skin peeling away from muscle, director André Øvredal‘s film is perhaps cinema’s most comprehensive look at the gruesome business of necropsy. Like in Øvredal‘s former film, Troll Hunter, what you cannot see can be a million times more disconcerting than what is in plain sight, rather than being simply gratuitous, Øvredal‘s penchant for gory necropsy finds its natural corollary in Ian B. Goldberg and Richard Naing‘s screenplay, which contrives a mystery in which all the clues are located within the corpse of an unidentified woman as more the coroners, Tommy Tilden and his son/trainee, Austin, slice her up and dig around in her insides, the deeper the mystery gets. The result is gripping for its slyly ironic merging of grisly forensic analysis and supernatural horror.

jane-doeIf you didn’t know better, you may think after the first third of the film that you were watching a forensic crime, and would be quite happy to continue watching in that vein. Instead, an unsettling, atmospheric, claustrophobic tale of magic, sacrifice and revenge unfolds, which I was more than happy with. I have no complaints about the technical aspects – the autopsy part was absolutely gorgeous in its realistic SFX. People who get queasy from seeing a corpse cut up and dissected – should beware. This is graphic! Perhaps some people would find the autopsy part boring, but I think that everyone who appreciates a horror flick that slowly builds up in tension and eeriness would find the premise very intriguing. It could have turned out so much better, if it had stuck to that plan, instead of going in this direction. A film set in a morgue, really doesn’t need much topping, the location already does the trick, making the hairs rise in most people’s necks. Much of this is due to the moody music which probably made half the film! Sure there is the occasional i-already-know-whets-coming-next/ clichéd shock scene, but such sins are easily forgiven within seconds since the intense atmosphere of this film pulls the viewer back in mercilessly.  Although it’s being treated as a horror film – Which is not a problem unless you generalize this as the overall genre for this film – It’s more of a Suspense Thriller/Drama/Horror. This is not something I feel needs to be clarified, but understood as the film envelops all three entities.  Whereas it would have been wonderful to tie up the loose ends, see a bit about the Witch Trials history, give Tildens a bit more to go on earlier in the film etc. With that said, it may have removed something from the very polished whole, and in all likelihood will yield a – well deserved sequel as Jane Doe sure as Hell hasn’t finished yet! Brian Cox and Emile Hirsch actually made an impressive team. They were a perfect dad teaching the son the craft combo, but what was really impressive was how Olwen Kelly as the dead body was able to captivate you just as good as any monster in horror films.  Ophelia Lovibond & Michael McElhatton play their parts well.  On the whole, ‘The Autopsy Of Jane Doe’ is a low budgeted suspenseful film that is clever and creepy from start to finish.  If you didn’t know better, you may think after the first third of the film that you were watching a forensic crime, and would be quite happy to continue watching in that vein. Instead, an unsettling, atmospheric, claustrophobic tale of magic, sacrifice and revenge unfolds, which I was more than happy with. I have no complaints about the technical aspects – the autopsy part was absolutely gorgeous in its realistic SFX. People who get queasy from seeing a corpse cut up and dissected – should beware. This is graphic! Perhaps some people would find the autopsy part boring, but I think that everyone who appreciates a horror flick that slowly builds up in tension and eeriness would find the premise very intriguing. It could have turned out so much better, if it had stuck to that plan, instead of going in this direction. A film set in a morgue, really doesn’t need much topping, the location already does the trick, making the hairs rise in most people’s necks. Much of this is due to the moody music which probably made half the film! Sure there is the occasional i-already-know-whets-coming-next/ clichéd shock scene, but such sins are easily forgiven within seconds since the intense atmosphere of this film pulls the viewer back in mercilessly.  Although it’s being treated as a horror film – Which is not a problem unless you generalize this as the overall genre for this film – It’s more of a Suspense Thriller/Drama/Horror. This is not something I feel needs to be clarified, but understood as the film envelops all three entities.  Whereas it would have been wonderful to tie up the loose ends, see a bit about the Witch Trials history, give Tildens a bit more to go on earlier in the film etc. With that said, it may have removed something from the very polished whole, and in all likelihood will yield a – well deserved sequel as Jane Doe sure as Hell hasn’t finished yet! Brian Cox and Emile Hirsch actually made an impressive team. They were a perfect dad teaching the son the craft combo, but what was really impressive was how Olwen Kelly as the dead body was able to captivate you just as good as any monster in horror films.  Ophelia Lovibond & Michael McElhatton play their parts well.  On the whole, ‘The Autopsy Of Jane Doe’ is a low budgeted suspenseful film that is clever and creepy from start to finish.

3.5

Directed – André Øvredal

Starring – Emile Hirsch, Brian Cox, Ophelia Lovibond

Rated – R

Run Time – 86 minutes

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