The Autopsy of Jane Doe (2016) – Film Review

A twisted and unique indie horror that is certainly not for the squeamish, ‘The Autopsy of Jane Doe’ utilises it’s simple concept and individual location to the best of its ability, immersing its audience into its grim setting almost as if they are performing the autopsy themselves alongside the film’s characters. Whilst the film may still suffer from a couple of the same issues that plague many other modern horrors, ‘The Autopsy of Jane Doe’ manages to overcome many of its faults to become a compelling slice of low-budget horror.

While investigating the murder of a family, a small-town Sheriff and his team are puzzled with the discovery of a mysterious body buried underneath the crime scene. After bringing the corpse of the unnamed: ‘Jane Doe’ to family coroners: ‘Tommy’ and ‘Austin Tilden’ for a cause of death, the pair soon discover the corpse is harbouring a dark secret.

Directed by André Øvredal (Troll Hunter, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark), ‘The Autopsy of Jane Doe’ may be slightly lacking in terms of budget, yet the film always manages to use this to its advantage by setting nearly the entirety of its story within the walls of the ‘Tilden Morgue and Crematorium’. Through which, the film constantly retains its eerie atmosphere and even a partial feeling of claustrophobia. In addition to also keeping its audience entranced within its narrative through its signature mystery, as the questions of who is ‘Jane Doe’? And how was she killed? Remains-on every viewer’s mind after the opening scene.

The main father and son duo portrayed by Brian Cox and Emile Hirsch both do a great job throughout the film, with the writing also contributing to the film’s engagement as their characters receive a decent amount of characterisation. Easily the most challenging (and respectfully most impressive) performance of the film has to be the corpse herself: ‘Jane Doe’ however, as while there were some prosthetics used during production, it may surprise many to know this role was actually portrayed by actress Olwen Catherine Kelly for the majority of the film. As André Øvredal felt it was necessary to have an actress in the role to help connect to the audience on a human level, eventually leading Kelly to be cast due to her knowledge of yoga, which helped her minimalize her breathing.

The cinematography by Roman Osin is overall admirable, implementing a number of attractive shots during the runtime. However, the film’s cinematography is still best utilised when it comes to the many gruesome close-ups, as the film never shies away from the ‘Autopsy’ part of its title, displaying nearly every part of the autopsy from the initial exterior examination through to the interior examination, securing this film’s position as not one for the faint of heart when its comes to blood/gore (or nudity for that matter). The lighting throughout ‘The Autopsy of Jane Doe’ also benefits its story, as the film’s array of tense moments are only enhanced as a result of the morgue being shrouded in shadows.

Danny Bensi and Saunder Jurriaans handle the film’s original score, which in spite of its complete lack of memorability does help add to the film’s dark tone and blood-curdling atmosphere. As the score feels more like ominous ambience rather than a standard horror score, with the track: ‘Hair Cut’ being the clearest example of this. The film also places a heavy emphasis on the song: ‘Open Up Your Heart and Let the Sun Shine In’, a classic 50s song which repeatedly plays over the overly-static radio within the morgue, resulting in the song quickly becoming one of the film’s creepiest aspects.

Whilst ‘The Autopsy of Jane Doe’ does avoid many of the usual horror clichés, the film unfortunately still suffers from the most common problem in horror, jump-scares. Despite relying far more-on its atmosphere and occasional chilling visuals to place its audience on-edge, the film still feels the need to spread a variety jump-scares throughout its tight runtime. In particular, within the film’s final act, which is when the film loses much of its originality in favour of becoming more generic and predictable.

In conclusion, ‘The Autopsy of Jane Doe’ is a fairly underrated gem in the realm of modern horror, surpassing many other films that attempt many of the same ideas but usually end-up feeling quite tasteless. Although not perfect in its execution, the film still delivers-on its set-up of a tense and engrossing tale that also manages to make time for its characters in the process, and even though I personally don’t find Øvredal’s filmography impeccable, I do believe this director has talent, and projects like ‘The Autopsy of Jane Doe’ prove he can be a worthy contributor to the horror genre. Altogether, a high 7/10.

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