Film Review: The Autopsy of Jane Doe – 8/10

‘You can’t kill someone this way without leaving a trace on the outside…’

It’s rare for a horror film to be able to take big swings and still be successful and effective. The Autopsy of Jane Doe starts off as one thing and then becomes something quite different by the end and director André Øvredal somehow threads these disparate elements together into something quite wonderful…

Tommy (Brian Cox) and his son Austin (Emile Hirsch) are both coroners who live above their family-owned mortuary. Tommy is meticulous and world-weary while Austin is more curious and adventurous. One stormy night, a Jane Doe (Olwen Catherine Kelly) is delivered to Tommy and Austin by the local sheriff (Michael McElhatton). While the body looks pristine, it soon becomes clear that this woman suffered greatly before she died.

The first half of The Autopsy of Jane Doe very much lives up to its no-nonsense title. Indeed, this segment of the film is more like a mystery crime procedural than a horror film. The two men stand over the unknown woman’s naked and prone body and begin to cut her open. Øvredal keeps these scenes interesting through a mixture of moody lighting, creepy sound design and grotesque practical effects. It also helps that Cox and Hirsch make for a convincing father-and-son duo with the recent death of their family matriarch always lingering unspoken between the two of them. When things do take a turn for the supernatural, Autopsy becomes something akin to 1408 or Grave Encounters. A never-ending hallucinogenic nightmare that is made all the more terrifying by seeing a man as measured and competent as Brian Cox losing his shit left, right and centre.

Øvredal has established himself as a successful horror director with Troll Hunter, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark and The Last Voyage of the Demeter. While I enjoyed all of these films on some level, for my money, The Autopsy of Jane Doe is the Norwegian filmmaker’s best work. It’s chilling, unique and wonderfully acted and at only 86 minutes the film never outstays its welcome. Øvredal wisely resists providing too much backstory and lore, instead allowing the audience to fill in the gaps.

The Autopsy of Jane Doe is a short and nasty horror film that incorporates body horror, the occult and psychological terror. A quietly excellent horror movie.