Main cast: Emile Hirsch (Austin Tilden), Brian Cox (Tommy Tilden), Olwen Kelly (Jane Doe), Ophelia Lovibond (Emma), and Michael McElhatton (Sheriff Sheldon Burke)
Director: André Øvredal
Jane Doe is a name given to an unidentified corpse of a woman, and in The Autopsy of Jane Doe, the corpse in question is found at a site of what seems like a bewildering but gory homicide. There is no sign of break-in, nothing is stolen, and the victims appear to be in the midst of trying to flee… something. Also present is a pristine corpse of an unidentified woman.
This body is sent to the neighborhood coroner, Tommy Tilden, for some CSI stuff. Tommy is the typical know-it-all father who stubbornly believes that he should always call the shots, even if he admits, if only to himself, that he has screwed up badly in the past as a result of his recalcitrance. His son, Austin, does care for him, but that young man also wishes to be away from his small town. He has plans to leave with his sweetheart Emma, but he still doesn’t know how to tell his father. Emma, meanwhile, is patient but is also becoming increasingly frustrated by how little time she has with Austin – Austin assists Tommy in the lab, and the older man takes up so much of Austin’s time.
What does all this have to do with the story? Nothing; these are just small details inserted in a shallow and underdeveloped manner to give these characters some semblance of depths. Still, this movie goes further than most of its sort to do this, so I suppose this one should get some kudos for the effort.
As you can guess, weird things begin to happen as Tommy and Austin begin to perform an autopsy on Jane Doe. The radio changes channel all on its own, playing songs that double as ominous warnings, and stranger and even more dangerous things begin to pile up as the two men discover increasingly odd things about the corpse. While the body shows little external damage, the insides are badly damaged and there are weird objects stitched up in bags and planted in it. What is going on here?
The Autopsy of Jane Doe is a slow burn movie, taking its time to set things up for almost half its length, only to throw the scares full frontal later on. Even then, the scenes of the body being autopsied upon is not for the squeamish. This movie succeeds in being a solid horror flick because of this effective simmering of tension and terror until… boom! The crap just hits the fan. Even if there is no conclusive answers by the end of this movie, there are enough details given to let viewers make decent conclusions about what they have seen.
This isn’t a very long movie – just a bit under 90 minutes – and the film makes the most of its run time. The pacing is solid, and for the most part, everything feels tight and on point.
However, I am not too fond of the presence of some tired present-day horror clichés that cheapen the scares considerably. There are some noticeably contrived slow fake scares. I have no issues with jump or fake scares myself, but I am not a fond of the slow, dragged out ones that take forever to deliver the loud crash and fake scares. Oh, it’s just a cat or something, snort. Such tedious scenes aren’t just annoying – the increasingly louder “scary music” in the background is always a dead giveaway as to when to expect the loud “BOO!”, and the deliberate darkness is always an eye-rolling, lazy way to bring on the scares. Indeed, there is one scene where the light goes off – of course – so that I get “scared” watching our protagonist squeal and scream from encountering something I can’t make out at all. Is all this cheap trick supposed to be frightening? The whole thing is more of lazy gimmick than anything else.
Despite all that, this one is still a pretty decent horror flick to waste some time on. It’s not amazing, but it is certainly more than adequate for what it sets out to be.