The Autopsy of Jane Doe Review
For a few years now, horror cinema seems to have clearly taken two distinct paths; on one hand, chain products usually recycling, most of the time pretty stupidly, a badly digested or obsolete Catholic symbolic, and on the other hand, arty works, often plastically interesting but not always frontal enough in their approach of terror. Simultaneously an old-fashioned production but also a clever reflexion on voyeurism and the relations between men and women, The Autopsy of Jane Doe offers the best of both worlds, without forgetting neither fear nor establishing a powerful atmosphere. And it feels good.
Experienced coroner Tommy Tilden (Brian Cox, Churchill) and his son Austin (Emile Hirsch, Into the Wild) run a family-owned morgue and crematorium in Virginia. When the local Sheriff brings in an emergency case – an unknown female corpse nicknamed Jane Doe (Olwen Kelly, Darkness on the Edge of Town), found in the basement of a home where a multiple homicide took place – it seems like just another open-and-shut case. But as the autopsy proceeds, these seasoned professionals are left reeling as each layer of their inspection brings frightening new revelations.
Firstly, André Øvredal (Troll Hunters)’ second film is genuinely scary. By cleverly alternating between classic jump-scares, atmospheric terror and off-screen presence, The Autopsy of Jane Doe deploys a very rich grammar of fright and a remarkable efficiency. It is actually impossible not to feel a clear kinship between Øvredal’s movie and the movies of one of the best directors to have emerged in the genre: James Wan (The Conjuring). Both directors approach the genre with a clear willingness to never over-cut the action but rather to include it in an ample frame, which accompanies the movements and confers sequences through an immense fluidity. In the first part of the movie (like Wan in the less outstanding moments of his filmography) Øvredal unfortunately has a tendency to abuse of easy jump scares, like the Insidious director, however, he fortunately carefully disseminates visual and auditory clues, destined later to become sources of terror in the best scenes of the movie. The director also excels at creating a frightening atmosphere in the second part of his movie, reminding in some instances of the work of directors like Lucio Fulci (The Beyond) or John Carpenter (Prince of Darkness). The Autopsy of Jane Doe then adopts a very different rhythm and creates a gripping sense of inevitability which elevates it, relatively speaking, among the best representatives of the genre and makes you want to follow Øvredal’s career more closely.
The Autopsy of Jane Doe is not only a scary movie, it is also an intelligent one that doesn’t underestimate its audience. Despite clearly being a pure genre film and not a reflexive pensum, it never forgets to propose a dense yet evocative narrative which also reminds of the work of Stephen King, which is quite a propos considering that the King himself has provided an adequate quote for the movie’s theatrical release in the US. More specifically it both evokes the diabolical mechanics of Night Shift, but also shares with the novelist his approach of the characters. Indeed, what we witness with The Autopsy of Jane Doe are the unspoken, the regrets and the mistakes that have undermined the relationship between a father and his son, and that will come back to
The director is greatly helped in this task by a formidable duo of main actors. It is often forgotten but for a good terror movie to work, the audience needs to root for the main protagonists and to do so it needs well-built characters. Another great strength of The Autopsy of Jane Doe lies in the excellent choice of Cox and Hirsch. They create a duo that is both tragic and touching, a father and a son whom the years have gradually separated.
Finally, and this could be seen as one of the most important aspects of the movie, the movie’s undeniable efficiency lies in the title character, Jane Doe herself. Supported by a fascinating scientific investigation, The Autopsy of Jane Doe distils carefully the clues related to the inert body that the director makes as alive as the two men that autopsy her. This pure Kuleshov effect, based on the inflexions of a carefully crafted editing, allows same shots to create different emotions depending on which image precedes or follows them. Both simple and efficient, this method allows The Autopsy of Jane Doe to create a feeling of palpable terror in its best moments, making it a film as endearing as it is successful.
The Autopsy of Jane Doe is released in the UK, by Lionsgate Home Entertainment, on 26th June. It is presented in an efficient 1080p transfer. The movie is presented here in a 2.40:1 aspect ratio (the original ratio is the movie is 2.35:1). Visually, it looks rather dark, except when the camera lingers on Jane Doe’s livid skin, but in both cases, there is a very good level of detail. The amount of grain is also good and there are no noticeable issues or defects to diminish the impact of the experience.
On the sound side, the Blu-ray disc features one audio track, English Dolby Digital Surround 5.1 which, despite not being especially powerful, allows to greatly appreciate the anxious sound atmosphere created by score composers Danny Bensi and Saunder Jurriaans (The Gift). I haven’t noticed any defects or distortions. The disc also features optional English subtitles for the Hearing Impaired.
The only extra on the disc is a Q&A with Director André Øvredal (5 min, no subtitles). This is a frustratingly short interview of the director by Alan Jones shot during FrightFest in which he explains how he got involve in the movie (he mentions the influence of The Conjuring), discusses the script and the actors.