31 Fright Nights: Halloween 2017, Night #20 – The Autopsy of Jane Doe (2016)

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Director: André Øvredal

Writer(s): Ian Goldberg & Richard Naing

Studio/Distributor: IFC Midnight

Budget: $1 – 2m

Box Office: $1,984,503

Release Date: 21 December, 2016

IMDb Rating: 6.8/10

Rotten Tomatoes: 86%

UK Blu Ray release? Yes

Cast

Brian Cox – Tommy

Emile Hirsch – Austin

Ophelia Lovibond – Emma

Michael McElhatton – Sheriff Burke

Olwen Catherine Kelly – Jane Doe

Jane Perry – Lieutenant Wade

Trailer

Plot According to IMDb

A father and son, both coroners, are pulled into a complex mystery while attempting to identify the body of a young woman, who was apparently harbouring dark secrets.

Inertia’s Insight

IFC Midnight, the highbrow equivalent of Blumhouse, has produced some incredible horror films over the last few years. The IFC mark on a film impresses like the name of a fine wine or jewelers – you know for a fact in you’re in for a treat. The Autopsy of Jane Doe is exactly that – a treat, a feast for the eyes and a throwback to more traditional horror. And stepping in to the world of horror for the first time, André Øvredal slots himself nicely in a list of leading horror directors.

Father and son coroner duo Tommy and Austin are about to receive a body into their morgue that will change their current in-depth understanding of death forever. Opening on an idyllic suburban home shot from the outside as if nothing is wrong, like the perfect white paint couldn’t possibly betray any hint of corruption, the images suddenly juxtapose to give us a violent crime scene, the aftermath of a horrific night. In the basement they find a young woman, naked, almost perfectly preserved, half-buried in the Earth. She’s transported to the coroners, where a night of unspeakable terror will ensue…

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There’s another juxtaposition when we’re introduced to Tommy and Austin. With a hideously disfigured corpse lying on their table, they both jam to a catchy rock tune as they go through their process. They have a familiarity with death and are comfortable with it, a trait that not all of us possess.

When the body of Jane Doe arrives, Austin decides to ditch his girlfriend in favour of helping his Dad, recently widowed and a main focal point for Austin. Their relationship is solid, and Brian Cox and Emile Hirsch make a great pairing.

With the title self-explanatory, we dive in to the autopsy. Øvredal pays close attention to this medical process; the autopsy is slow and detailed, the characters throwing out medical jargon, explanations and multiple mysteries, expecting us to catch up. For all the intrusion of her body, what makes it most uncomfortable is her nudity and the condition her body is in – apart from her cold, glass eyes that stare out in pain for most of the autopsy, she doesn’t look dead. It’s voyeuristic, and is testament to Øvredal’s insistence that Jane Doe is played by a real person. Credit too has to go to Olwen Catherine Kelly, who has the hardest job in this film, somehow making a corpse one of the best bits of acting I’ve seen in a long time.

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We see her face a lot from the birds eye perspective and you keep waiting for something to happen – a twitch or a blink, a lip quiver or shudder. Yet nothing does happen, her menace lying in her unchanging face. As the autopsy continues and the mysteries deepen, we’re drawn in to the intriguing and mysterious world of Jane Doe. Is she the victim of a ritualistic cult slaying? Or is she the perpetrator, isolated inside this preserved body?

As well as creating a sense of claustrophobia in the windowless room, Øvredal uses music and sound to maximum effect. The juxtaposition of the rock music is one thing, but when the supernatural begins to happen the chorus builds to an uncomfortable level, the gospel-sounding music emphasising the ritualistic nature of her death. There’s also an impeccable use of sound with the ankle bell. Introduced as an old fashioned method of Tommy’s to ensure the corpse is definitely just that, the mere sound of it later becomes a gut wrenching and goosebump-inducing scene that conjures horrific images that you’ve created yourself.

Øvredal shows himself as a master of the genre with the way in which he plays his cards close to his chest. Tight shots, close-ups and distorted images through cracks in the door keep from revealing everything to us. There’s just enough given for us to make the rest ourselves, always leaving us wanting more. He also knows when enough is enough, giving us the shotgun face guy in all his glory but only for a few flickering seconds, sending shivers up your spine.

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The mystery surrounding Jane Doe and the hell she brings is never quite explained. The biggest reveal (no spoilers) is actually quite hard to take, and you really feel for. But this mystery surrounding her is what makes the film so clever. There are answers, but not enough to round the film out, but that’s okay; what we do learn of her is shocking, but to fully comprehend it would perhaps be too much. The ending of the film is downbeat and plays out like the opening scene, with the idyllic picture outside making way for a hellish nightmare inside.

Though there’s the potential for a sequel, it feels like it ended the way it should. Let’s just hope that Øvredal has more horror up his sleeve.

Inertia’s Ideal Score ( out of 5)

★★★★

Trivia

  • Norwegian director André Øvredal was inspired to do a horror movie after attending a screening of The Conjuring
  • Stephen King said the film rivaled Alien and early Cronenberg
  • Martin Sheen was originally cast as Tommy, but had to drop out due to scheduling conflicts

Quotes

TOMMY: This amount of lung damage, though, I’d expect the body to be covered in third degree burns. It’s like finding a bullet in a brain, but with no gunshot wound.


Tomorrow: Night #21 – Sinister (2012)

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