Running Time: 86 mins
Reviewer: David Gillespie – HCF Official Artist
A morgue is a perfect backdrop for a horror. I remember watching the Michael Crighton directed thriller, Coma (1978) at a reasonably young age and being literally traumatized after the hospital morgue chase sequence. From the zombie smackdown in Re-animator (1985), to the inner paranoia in Nightwatch (1997) and the sleazy acts of necrophilia in The Corpse of Anna Fritz (2015), the eerie and sterile location adds a further dimension to the tension and terror.
Troll Hunter director Andre Ovredal decides to set the bulk of the action of his latest mystery chiller, Autopsy of Jane Doe in just such a place. After a brief introduction where a police investigation unit discovers the brutal murder of a family and the half-buried cadaver of beautiful, young woman (Olwen Catherine Kelly) in their basement, we are introduced to the father and son coroner team who have the task of identifying this Jane Doe. Tommy Tilden (Brian Cox) is still grieving the death of his wife and his son Austin (Emile Hirsh) reluctantly assists his father although yearns to leave town with his outspoken girlfriend Emma (Ophelia Lovibond). Austin’s love for his father keeps him by his side although he does not have the passion or skill of his elder for the job. In a very strong first quarter, we watch as the Tilden duo saw, slice and crack their way through skin, bone and sinew to unearth the horrifying secrets behind the woman’s identity. Tommy repeatedly questions and educates his son on the potential clues that face them on their journey. One early sequence is particularly impressive as the father playfully teases a curious Emma regards the reasons for a single bell being tied to the toe of their lifeless guests. The scene works due to the wonderful acting talent on display and the confident direction of Ovredal. A seasoned horror viewer will instantly identify that the bell will be used again later in the film when the mood changes. As the autopsy progresses, a storm begins to brew outside, the beaten up radio loses reception and the electrics start to fail. Although Jane Doe appears unharmed externally, internally there appears to something incredibly wrong. It isn’t long before Tommy and Austin are scrambling to escape the basement but something has no intention on letting anyone leave.
My expectations were extremely high for the Autopsy of Jane Doe. This was due to a superb marketing campaign, terrifying trailer, talented director and the inclusion of the contender for best actor of his generation in Brian Cox. I remember almost getting lynched in a spirited Glasgore seminar at the Glasgow Film Theatre when I suggested that Mr Cox was a superior Hannibal Lector to Anthony Hopkins or Madds Mikkelsen. Well….he is? It is the bond and interaction between Hirsh and Cox that drives the film on and propels it to something higher than a skilfully made b movie. There is no doubt that Ovredal knows exactly what he’s doing when it comes to atmosphere, sound effects, lighting and pacing. The problem lies with where to go when his hand is finally revealed and the film moves into familiar horror territory. There are some terrifying moments involving Hirsh catching sight of something unspeakable in a mirror within the narrow dark corridors, an effects-driven, laboratory inferno and a heart-stopping moment when the power comes back on and all the storage doors lie wide open with all residents missing. Perhaps if the film has stayed a little bit more within believability then the chill factor would have worked even more. The Corpse of Anna Fritz (2015) worked better due to the action always staying within the realms of believability.
The Autopsy of Jane Doe is a slickly made and well-constructed horror movie with first class performance by the two leading actors. The first two-thirds are almost perfect before the mayhem ensues and the plot loses focus and the interest and thrill factor diminishes. What remains is a very good rather than excellent mystery chiller.