I wouldn’t normally describe myself as a scaredy cat but boy, this movie sure scared the bejeesus out of me. It was like the filmmakers took a look at my brain and figured out all the things that creeped me out. It then proceeded to incorporate everything into this movie. I must say, they got me good.
Synopsis: Austin (Emile Hirsch) and his dad Tommy (Brian Cox) are coroners who run a decades-old funeral business. As his dad’s apprentice, Austin assists his dad in performing autopsies for the county police, in addition to their regular clients. When a mysterious case of a Jane Doe is dumped on them by the local sheriff, the pair finds themselves dealing with the impossible.
I must say that this is one of the best supernatural horror films that I’ve seen lately and not just because it scared me. Its because it strategically scared the audience out of their wits. It was intelligently written and paced, making sure that the audience was with Austin and Tommy all the way.
First, director André Øvredal made sure to establish the relationship between father and son early on. While Austin wanted out of the family business, he still felt a strong sense of loyalty and love for his dad and didn’t want to leave him alone, even despite an implied tension stemming from his mother’s passing. And while Tommy was not entirely affectionate with his son, audiences can feel his pride that his son was helping him do his work. His protective stance, while they prepared to face the unknown, was also one of the best moments in the film. Sometimes, body language is enough to convey the message. Brian Cox and Emile Hirsch were the perfect messengers to convey the film’s main point.
I liked that the film unraveled the mystery in stages as each part of the autopsy is concluded. The father and son find clues about the cause of Jane Doe’s death with every layer of the autopsy and with each item that comes out, it gets creepier and creepier. This is why I said that the film was intelligently written by screenwriters Ian Goldberg and Richard Naing.
The movie reveals just enough information to keep the audiences engaged and follows up with a lot of scary supernatural moments distributed throughout the movie.
There was a ton of foreshadowing at the beginning of the film that hinted about how it was going to end, but because filmmakers managed to endear the lead characters to the viewers, they root for Tommy and Austin against all odds and curse the sheriff for bringing them this problem in the first place and not being there when he was needed. They even feel a connection with the corpse as more information is revealed about her ordeal. (Spoiler: As a long time viewer of Supernatural though, I should say that the hex bag was a dead giveaway)
If one is familiar with Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, there was plenty of homage to the iconic film that The Autopsy of Jane Doe employed. The corridors, the flickering lights, the mirror, the axe and even the hole on the door — remember Red Rum? These elements were incorporated into the film very tastefully and added another effective layer of horror to the movie because we all knew how The Shining turned out.
All in all, the film’s main strength was its well-developed characters — even actress Ophelia Lovibond who played the corpse. While she had no speaking lines, she sufficiently portrayed her role just by being the ominous presence that haunted Tommy and Austin. The Autopsy of Jane Doe was sufficiently gory, effectively scary and competently executed. It didn’t go overboard but rather built on the film’s strengths brick by brick. By its end, audiences are flabbergasted but in a good way. Definitely not for the faint-hearted, though. Great practical effects too, by the way.