It is said that those who do not learn from their mistakes are doomed to repeat them. Well, sometimes doing the same thing twice can yield unexpected results, such as taking horror film recommendations from Facebook.
The Autopsy of Jane Doe (TAoJD) popped up on my feed a number of times so I thought it would be worth giving it a try. After the ‘recommendation’ of Veronica, I was convinced this would be another horror hype with little to back it up.
I’m happy to report that I was wrong.
While TAoJD isn’t the scariest film I’ve ever seen, it did offer a lot in the way of story-telling, and comes at a few traditional horror tropes from a new angle.
The story concerns a local family-run mortuary led by everyone’s favourite father figure, Brian Cox (not the space guy, the other one!) as Tommy, supported by his often-reluctant son, Austin, played by Emilie Hirsch. At first I wasn’t sure I should include this film on my blog due to the big name stars in the cast, but the fact that this hasn’t been advertised too much on mainstream media gives it enough leeway. Plus, I really enjoyed this film!
Tommy and Austin are brought a body late at night by the local sheriff, after the opening scenes show us a bloody murder house, three victims killed in various splatter-filled ways, and a fourth body partially buried in the basement. This body, that of a young woman, is the Jane Doe of the title.
Once deposited with Tommy and Austin, orders are given to have the autopsy done by morning, so Austin begrudgingly postpones his date with girlfriend Emma to help out dear old Dad. There’s a small sub-plot here about Austin building up the courage to tell his father that he’s leaving town with his girlfriend and won’t be taking over the family business, but that seems to be a device to flesh out the characters, rather than adding to the plot.
So, back to the body.
Naked for most of the film, the shots of Jane Doe feel voyeuristic, but not necessarily in a sexual way. The discomfort that comes from looking at her body is in her staring eyes and almost lifelike appearance, not her nudity. In fact, you feel wrong just looking at this young woman uncovered because you feel she is alive, not dead, and you’re crossing some social boundary by watching her. Which is precisely why they’ve shot it like that, because as the film progresses, that feeling of intrusion and violation becomes something you can identify with Jane Doe’s character. Without giving too much of the plot away, we get to experience her vulnerabilities in that exposure, which then leads to us as the viewers also feeling exposed. It is both unerving and brilliant.
As the characters do, we begin to understand that this is no ordinary body, and things go sideways at a fair pace; fast enough to keep you engrossed, but not so fast as to lose the element of suspense.
Sound plays a big part in this film, and Danny Bensi and Saunder Jurriaans’ score is perfect for creating a haunting, claustrophobic atmosphere as the two coroners find themselves trapped below ground with all manner of paranormal goings-on. Trust me, you won’t have the same reaction to the tinkle of a bell after watching this film.
That’s not to say that TAoJD is without visual horror as well. The special effects chaps working here did their homework and give us just enough of a peek at the horrors stalking the corridors to make us recoil. There is a particularly tense scene near the start where Austin’s girlfriend Emma gets to test her mettle when Tommy allows her to inspect some of their other cadavers. I loved Brian Cox in this scene, as you’re not quite sure if he’s just having a bit of fun, or is truly looking to scare off his son’s girlfriend.
The actors really make this film work, with the two male leads giving a very realistic performance as father and son, as well as two people faced with something beyond their comprehension. Big shout out to Olwen Kelly as Jane Doe. Without moving a muscle, she manages to unnerve the viewer in every scene she’s in, and the ethereal quality to her looks really give her character an otherworldy quality that works so well here.
Overall, I definitely recommend The Autopsy of Jane Doe; best watched with the lights off and no interruptions!