Director: André Øvredal
Cast: Emile Hirsch, Brian Cox, Ophelia Lovibond, Michael McElhatton, Olwen Kelly
Screenplay: Ian Goldberg, Richard Niang
86 mins. Rated R for bloody horror violence, unsettling grisly images, graphic nudity, and language.
I don’t think enough people talk about André Øvredal (Trollhunter, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark). To be fair, he hadn’t made a mainstream movie until this year, but horror fans should be celebrating this auteur and his amazing attention to tone and suspense. One of his more recent films, The Autopsy of Jane Doe, skirted under the radar when it came out in 2016, but it’s on Netflix now, so I finally caught it.
Father/son coroners Tommy (Brian Cox, X2: X-Men United, TV’s Succession) and Austin (Emile Hirsch, Into the Wild, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood) have been tasked by local police with a rather curious task. A body has been recovered at a crime scene, a woman with no easily discernible identity or cause of death. Sheriff Burke (Michael McElhatton, Justice League, TV’s Game of Thrones) has asked the two to discover answers to both before morning, and as they delve into the mystery, they are beset upon by strange happenings, all possibly linked with the dead woman on the slab.
This is a tight little thriller, pretty much singular-location, that led by two excellent performances from two talented individuals. This movie doesn’t work without the talent of Hirsch and Cox. Their chemistry is strained just like it should be, with Tommy wanting his son to carry on the family business, and Austin not too interested in that idea. There’s a scene in the elevator that allows them to dig into the tension between themselves without really leaving the inherent suspense of what’s going on during the autopsy.
Speaking of the autopsy itself, it’s absolutely incredible to have an actual actress playing the body. I get it, you’re thinking how easy it must be to just sit there, but I’ll tell you, there isn’t a moment that I noticed movement. In so many films featuring a character death where you can see them breathing softly, but not with Jane Doe, played by Olwen Kelly (Winter Ridge, Darkness on the Edge of Town). So yes, hers isn’t an acting powerhouse, but she succeeds where she’s trying to: giving an authentic visual aesthetic that makes Jane Doe look realistic without drawing away from the story or suspense.
Øvredal has a command of the story here and slowly unravels layers of this mystery with biting pressure and some seriously strange visual and audio cues. The movie is a tightly-wrapped mystery filled with strange moments, and for the most part, everything works. I’m not big on the final moments of the story, where I feel like it comes off the rails a bit and sacrifices some of the story for the option to go weird with it, and I feel like it doesn’t stick the landing as well as it should, but everything before it is so worth it.
I don’t want to get too deep into the mystery itself because I don’t want to ruin the story for you, but you need to check out The Autopsy of Jane Doe. It’s an elegantly creepy chiller that I cannot recommend enough. The ending may work for you, or it may not, but I don’t think it will detract from the film either way. Seek this one out and see it for yourself. This one is a must-see.
-Kyle A. Goethe
For my review of André Øvredal’s Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, click here.