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‘The Autopsy of Jane Doe’ (review)

Produced by Fred Berger, Eric Garcia,
Ben Pugh, Rory Aitken
Written by Ian Goldberg, Richard Naing
Directed by André Øvredal
Starring Emile Hirsch, Brian Cox,
Olwen Kelly, Michael McElhatton,
Ophelia Lovibond, Parker Sawyers

 

The claustrophobic atmosphere of an old, rundown morgue is one of the creepier horror settings in recent memory, one that is exploited to its full potential in this unsettling, extremely effective horror film from the director of Trollhunter.

The film begins with small-town police trying to figure out what caused a brutal family massacre —  and why there’s a partially buried nude body of a young woman in the basement.

From the first we see of Jane Doe, who doesn’t have a mark on her alabaster skin, we know there’s a troubling history here, one that is slowly revealed by local mortician Tommy Tilden (Brian Cox) and his son, Austen (Emile Hirsch).

The film gets its R rating from “bloody horror violence, unsettling grisly images and language” as well as “graphic nudity.” The camera hovers over every detail of Jane Doe’s body in a way that at first feels exploitational, but the film takes a surprisingly feminist twist as the Tildens uncover conflicting clues about her cause of death.

When the police deliver the body, Austen is heading out for a date with his girlfriend and Tommy says he can handle the rush job alone. Austen, who’s been waiting for a way to tell his father he wants to quit the family business, decides to postpone his date and lend a hand. Of course, that’s a fateful decision he soon regrets.

Because we first see the Tildens conducting a routine autopsy, it’s all the more disturbing to see just how bizarrely Jane Doe’s post-mortem unfolds. Lights begin to flicker. The radio begins playing the same song over and over. The body bleeds when it’s first cut into, which we all know isn’t supposed to happen. And then the elevator stops working…

The film, which checks in at a brisk 86 minutes, is perfectly paced. The scares start small and build to a truly terrifying finale.

This is a film that could easily have cast unknowns in the lead roles of father and son, but it’s a smart enough script that gives actors like Cox and Hirsch room to do more than just peek around dark corners in terror.

If you’re looking for a pre-Christmas scare, this will do the trick nicely.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

 

The Autopsy of Jane Doe will arrive in theaters in limited release
on December 21 and on VOD platforms on December 20

 

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