The Autopsy of Jane Doe (2016)

Following the success of his previous film, the horror comedy Troll Hunter - a Gorepress favourite – Norwegian director André Øvredal sets his sights on breaking more into the mainstream by releasing his first feature-length English-language film, The Autopsy of Jane Doe…and boy, am I glad he did.

After the body of an anonymous young woman is discovered half-buried in a basement in small-town Virginia, the local sheriff asks father-and-son team Tommy and Austin Tilden (Brian Cox and Emile Hirsch respectively), the local coroners, to try and establish a cause of death overnight.

The pair set to work, laying our Jane Doe out on the autopsy table. At first glance, nothing obvious seems to be amiss, however it’s not long before a number of bizarre and seemingly contradictory details are discovered; an unnaturally narrow waist, crushed wrists and ankles with no external signs of damage, a missing tongue, an unidentified and partially-digested plant in the stomach…it’s clear that Tommy and Austin have a long night ahead of them, and when a storm settles in overhead and the pair realise that they might be locked in, things start taking a turn for the spooky…

Øvredal, along with screenwriters Ian Goldberg and Richard Naing, wisely keep things slow and low-key, allowing the characters to exist and giving them a chance to breathe before slowly piling on the tension, and once shit starts going down as the story unfolds, it’s all better for it. This is perhaps the reason – or at least, one of the many reasons – why The Autopsy of Jane Doe succeeds where so many horror films fail; the characters are…well, exactly that. They’re not merely fodder to fuel the scares, but fully rounded characters, with their own wants and desires, which in turn gives Cox and Hirsch something substantial to sink their teeth into.

However, the real star here is, oddly, Olwen Kelly as the Jane Doe. Despite barely moving a muscle throughout the entire length of the film, she commands a powerful presence indeed, her corpse forcing the two men to question the only thing they professionally rely on; facts.

Largely set within the confines of the morgue, the film steadily feels increasingly cramped and claustrophobic as it progresses, especially when the two men realise they might not be the only ones moving around in their basement. The heavy use of chiaroscuro, along with the decidedly reto set, does nothing to allay this feeling; the shadows almost feeling tangible lurking in the background.

All in all, The Autopsy of Jane Doe is a fantastic little film. As well as being elegantly and subtly constructed, there are some amazing – not to mention stomach-churning – physical effects that deserve to be mentioned, and, while the ending veers a little too Hollywood for my liking, the rest of the film more than makes up for it. Well worth a watch.

Rating: ★★★★★★★★½☆

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