The Autopsy of Jane Doe FILM REVIEW
THE AUTOPSY OF JANE DOE
Director: André Øvredal
Screenplay: Ian B. Goldberg and Richard Naing
Starring: Emile Hirsch, Brian Cox, Ophelia Lovibond, Michael McElhatton, Olwen Kelly
Rated R for bloody horror violence, unsettling grisly images, graphic nudity, and language
Running Time: 1 hours 39 minutes
**** out of *****
Tommy (Brian Cox) and Austin (Emile Hirsch) Tilden, father and son coroners, uncover startling evidence during a routine medical examination.
Thanks to many seasons of the Emmy award winning crime drama CSI: Crime Scene Investigation I developed a fascination and appreciation for forensic science. In particular, likely at the time due to my gleeful enjoyment of the horror genre, I was most intrigued by what medical examiner Al Robbins would uncover as he cut and probed the many bodies which have graced his examination table. While the show was a work of fiction one could easily find a program about real medical examiners on Discovery Channel. Programs can be simultaneously gruesome and educational. Much of the science that one may find on those programs comes in to play in André Øvredal's film THE AUTOPSY OF JANE DOE as science and the unexplained collide in some surprising and, at times, terrifying ways.
In the film, Tommy and Austin Tilden, portrayed by Brian Cox and Emile Hirsch, respectively, are father and son coroners who work in a family owned business that has been passed on through generations. When we first meet this duo they are in the midst of wrapping up an examination as they determine the ultimate cause of death of a burn victim. Tommy tells his son Austin that "Every body has a secret." Together, they find that out the hard way when Sheriff Sheldon, played by Michael McElhatton, brings in the body of young girl, a Jane Doe, played by Olwen Kelly, who was found at the site of a mass homicide. Due to the peculiar nature of her discovery, the Sheriff needs a cause of death as soon as possible so the Tilden's immediately begin their investigation.
I went into this film completely blind. I didn't see any of the trailers until after the fact. I was mostly curious to see how much of the film the marketing gives away and fortunately it was very little. I had a rudimentary idea of the basic premise of the film. Armed only with my basic understanding of what goes on in the morgue and my knowledge of the genre I was quite surprised by the journey this film takes you on and enjoyed every twist and turn, telegraphed or otherwise.
Ian B. Goldberg and Richard Naing have written a very tight script that toys with your expectations and delivers the expected but they really sink their claws into you when they delve into a fresh take on the genre. The horror genre, well most genres for that matter, are known for recycling tropes. It's up to the writers to find a way to present audiences with the familiar but in an engaging and entertaining fashion. Goldberg and Naing have done that.
As solid as the script is, it would mean nothing if the screenplay wasn't effectively portrayed. Cox and Hirsch are at once convincing as coroners and as father and son. They provide a grounded reality so that you can buy into the unfolding events and when things get, shall we say a bit hectic, they never lose that level of credibility. Small and large they have a number of affecting moments throughout the film but one that takes place in an elevator was particularly touching. For someone who literally has to do nothing but lie still, Kelly does a great job of doing just that and director Øvredal manages to imbue her with life. Ophelia Lovibond appears as Emma, Austin's girlfriend. She is saddled with the role, probably the only stereotypical part of the film, of the girlfriend who wants to spends time with Austin but is constantly taking a backseat to his job. McElhatton turns in a solid performance as a Sheriff who just wants to get to the bottom of the mystery.
Øvredal's last film was the highly enjoyable genre film TROLLHUNTERS. His English language debut is just as auspicious and memorable. Together with his editors and cinematographer he has put together a film that effectively builds tension even in the moments where there is nothing really going on. He keeps you engaged as your wheels are turning while you, along with the characters on screen, try to piece together the mystery behind this young girl. He reels you in, lulls you into a false sense of security and then pulls the rug out from under you.
THE AUTOPSY OF JANE DOE is a fun and entertaining horror film which delivers exactly what horror fans desire. They want to have fun, they want to laugh and above all they want to be scared. Thanks to grounded performances, a taut script and solid direction, this film gives hope to the most cynical of horror fans, myself included, that this genre
is not dead and buried. THE AUTOPSY OF JANE DOE is one of the best horror films of 2016.
***** = Outstanding ****1/2 = Excellent **** = Very Good ***1/2 = Above Average
*** = Good **1/2 = Mediocre ** = Fair *1/2 = Poor * = Bad 1/2* = Abysmal