Shallow Graves: The Autopsy of Jane Doe

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Dip your toes in a little bit of horror.

The Autopsy of Jane Doe

Director:  Andre Ovredal, 2016

It’s hard to deny a simple mystery thriller. One with a layered, unraveling mystery told with a clinical, procedural tone, like a detective story, or…an autopsy.

Brian Cox and Emile Hirsch play Tommy and Austin, father and son morticians. Tommy (Cox) also happens to be the county coroner, assisted by his son. Their day in the life goes by like any other; they do their work and ruminate over the gory details of death like slate faced professionals, giving us an overture for the real mystery to come in the form of a most unusual Jane Doe. This is an example of where the film The Autopsy of Jane Doe hits all its marks. The plot is delivered with almost surgical precision, every ‘I’ is dotted and ‘t’ crossed making for some satisfying payoffs that serve the procedural feel of the autopsy scenes, but it leaves one wanting for a little subversion to keep us on our toes.

We’ll get back to the lack of subversion in a moment, but first the heart and soul of the film, Cox and Hirsch. Their natural on screen chemistry brings believability to the film and tells much of the story between their characters through subtle and thoughtful performances. Their relationship intertwines effortlessly with the building tension of the autopsy as it slowly reveals its mysteries.

Its interesting watching two people with scientific minds, who are unfazed by the ugliness of death, slowly succumb to the outlandish possibilities that confront them. When they crack we lose the illusion that we’re safe with Tommy and Austin, with their objective view of the impossible. This is the movie’s strength, and what makes it feel like a movie many fans will want to re-watch. It’s the engine of anticipation slowly building momentum through the rhythm of the characters relationship and the autopsy. Again, its tight, it has impeccable pacing and its claustrophobic setting, a basement morgue, is effectively lit and filmed to induce dread, and it works. But, once the movie moves away from the autopsy table and ventures into the supernatural elements it begs for a little weirdness, a curveball to break our expectations and add a little color to the proceedings.

The Autopsy of Jane Doe may not wow anyone, but it hits all its marks and sprinkles in enough thrills for it to be a good stormy night film.

See also:

From Beyond (Stuart Gordon, 1986)

The Legend of Hell House (John Hough, 1973)

James Merolla

 

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