The horror genre is an often enigmatic corner of the cinematic world, often serving up the highest likelihood of mediocrity within its many annual releases, while also delivering some truly groundbreaking movies that shake us to the core and remind us that there is still originality and hope. With films such as this year’s Get Out and recent hits The Witch and Don’t Breathe delighting audiences, another film that should come under the same banner is André Øvredal’s impressive The Autopsy Of Jane Doe.
Father and son coroners Tom and Austin Tilden (Brian Cox and Emile Hirsch) have a new case on their hands as a body is found in the basement of a crime scene in mysterious circumstances. That body (Olwen Kelly) – only known as ‘Jane Doe’ – isn’t just any normal one that arrives at the morgue, in fact it comes with a clear history of staggering abuse. A cut-out tongue, crushed bones and various scars suggest plenty of foul play through the eyes and as the Tildens begin their own examinations it becomes clear that there are darker forces at hand.
With the incisions revealing dark secrets not only in their subject but the men themselves, their town is slowly taken over by a storm and with it they find themselves trapped inside the confines of their claustrophobic working environment. Despite being a place of familiarity, there may be something far from familiar on the horizon for the two men.
While Øvredal’s Troll Hunter delivered dark laughs and a certain level of awe in its mammoth monster figures, it’s fair to say the Scandinavian has moved on to the much more edgier and nail-biting side of horror with Jane Doe. Gone are the icy, torchlit landscapes of an arctic climate, replaced by the ice cold and biting nature of nerve-shredding terror and superb character development. The Autopsy Of Jane Doe, on the surface, could have easily resulted in a paint-by-numbers haunting story reminiscent of so many others before it, but thankfully we have a thought-provoking and clever film worthy of plaudits.
Of course, a film of this nature requires a strong stomach and here is where the film excels to an exceptional level, perfectly presenting a truly horrifying and gut-wrenching vision of the world of morgues and the work that goes on within their confines. The effects are superb and truly effective, while these are coupled with superb turns from both leading men, Hirsch and Cox, as well as the placid yet strangely alluring Kelly in full-blown ‘dead’ mode. The pair who drive the movie are simply brilliant, possessing their own secrets and instilling a true level of atmosphere and unnerving terror as the film progresses.
It’s rare that such a horror could turn out a commanding and engaging presence but The Autopsy Of Jane Doe bucks the trend for the autopsy/ghost story focus and serves up an interesting and original concept. The direction is on-point, the performances effective and the all-important effects really nailing the gore and stomach-wrenching nature of autopsy nastiness. A surprising treat that will more than please horror aficionados.
The Autopsy Of Jane Doe is out on DVD and Blu-ray now.