The Autopsy of Jane Doe mixes multiple genres together in a rather unique way. With good actors, strong direction, and a solid intro and middle it feels good to watch, like there is solid substance to what is to come, but unfortunately it all unravels at the end. With a rushed, and slightly obscure explanation, combined with a formulaic ending it all just feels like we aren’t even watching the same movie we were an hour earlier. Is it worth watching, absolutely. Will it be what you’re expecting, probably not. – 4/5 (genre)
The Autopsy of Jane Doe is one of those unusual movies where you aren’t quite certain how to classify it, or exactly how you feel after it’s finished. It leaves you feeling like you just watched something deeply impacting and wrought with meaning, but you can’t quite find any significant depth in the movie overall. That could in part be because this movie could have worked just as well not being a horror movie and being the mystery of a murdered Jane Doe. If all the standard horror elements were dropped and replaced by just solving the mystery I don’t think anything would have been lost.
That said, The Autopsy of Jane of Doe is part mystery, part drama, and of course part horror, with each part having its own moments to reign within the 90 some odd minutes within which this peculiarly beautiful mess unfolds. The beginning is pretty straight forward and has some fairly typical horror foreshadowing of what’s to come in regard to more than just Jane Doe herself. There’s a strong introduction to the technique and procedure of performing autopsies, and this means two things: One there is a lot of nudity, because as a general rule it’s easier to do an autopsy when the corpse has no clothes on and the dead don’t tend to mind the lack of clothing, and there’s lots of blood and various organs. The blood isn’t from horrible death scenes like you would get from a more traditional horror movie, but simply the work being done.
The movie opens on a murder scene where a couple and a hired construction worker (sort of construction, maybe more handy-man), are all found dead in the couples home. The scene is rather gruesome and a bit of a mystery, as it really looks like they were trying to get out as one officer notes, with no sign of forced entry from outside. Just stepping aside here, I really dislike this aspect in horror movies, these types of sweeping and jumping to conclusion statements are highly suspect. It seems unlikely that the police, or sheriffs, would be making any such statement without any real evidence to support other than a cursory glance at the crime scene. But, I suppose these statements are necessary to push the tone the way the writer’s/director want it to go. In the basement of the house a woman who was buried under the ground is partially exposed, and obviously dead. This of course is Jane Doe.
Tommy (Brian Cox) is the coroner for the town in which the movie takes place, though I don’t recall seeing or hearing exactly the name but I could have missed it. At any rate it doesn’t factor in at all. His son Austin (Emile Hirsch) has worked with him doing autopsies for obviously quite some time as he knows the procedures but still doesn’t have the touch that comes with experience, as is pointed out early with his father correcting him with “appears” instead of a flat factual statement. As Austin is leaving the morgue with his girlfriend Emma (Ophelia Lovibond) the body of Jane Doe (Olwen Catherine Kelly) is brought in, and Sheriff Burke (Michael McElhatton) asks Tommy to get him a cause of death by morning because he can sell any number of stories of what happened, but none fit with the girl in the basement. Tommy decides that he needs to help his father, and asks Emma to come back later and he’ll be all hers. The back story here being that Austin’s mom died two years prior and he’s been essentially taking care of his father, or really helping him through it.
And to the basement he returns to help his father with the autopsy. It becomes pretty obvious right from the start that this isn’t going to be a typical autopsy. What is disappointing is that the bulk of the clues of what happened to this girl are given away in the trailer, and I do mean virtually all. Watch the trailer and you know everything that was done to Jane Doe with just a couple of exceptions, one comes early in the autopsy, the other much later after all the crazy has come loose. Once they begin, odd things start to happen with every step of the autopsy they take, with a particular song coming on the radio every time something is about to happen. I take some issue with the song on the radio, given the age that they assign to Jane Doe, did she at some point in the mid 20th century accidentally catch a song on the radio while lying “dead” and decide “You know what? I like this song. I think it should be my I’m gonna kill you song. Yea I like that, music to die by.”. In all fairness, I get it, the song is pertinent to what happened to her, what’s going to happen in the morgue and the whole foundation of the movie, but still I’m just curious at what point she decided to add this to her repertoire. Once the autopsy progresses further, more of the mystery evolves and we get to start guessing what happened to her, sadly unless you’re up on some rather obscure (these days) rituals you probably aren’t going to get it. If you do, kudos!
One fun aspect of the movie is that we get a multi-part autopsy, as it is interrupted several times by various things, but they just keep coming back. As Trevor Noah said recently, no wonder white people are always dieing in horror films, they just keep going back (to paraphrase). Crazy ass shambler right outside the door, I’m gonna stick my eye up against this axe carved out hole, nothing could possibly go wrong. When it comes to the horror movie trope of running up the stairs to the place with now viable exits (here it’s down) this movie is rife with it and many others. There’s so much foreshadowing they may as well have slapped you upside the head and said “Hey dummy, this is what’s gonna happen!”. But to add insult to injury I think (no pun intended there) they decided we’re gonna run this is a really wild direction, so we can throw out all those possible paths that would make sense and go for something out of left field.
Despite that the acting was especially good, considering that this was essentially just a two person movie, Tommy and Austin. While Jane Doe is a prominent part she really just lies there with her insides hanging out…in pan next to her for most of the movie. Other than the close ups to her eyes, and the actors ability to remain completely motionless when it’s obvious it is the actor there not a lot room to “play” the character one way or the other. Brian Cox (Tommy) plays his part as the experienced, but emotionally damaged, medical examiner. In fact he plays the role really solid right up until the last twenty minutes when his character just starts making leaps left and right, like leap frogging across ideas about Jane Doe with little to stand on but wishful thinking. I guess I would have been making wild guesses too if corpses were jumping up and walking about, ring that bell Frank! Emile Hirsch (Austin) was competent and believable, though his emotions seemed to be a bit stilted at times. No shocked reaction to shotgun face, but balled up on the floor crying at one point. While I’m sure this is what the script called for, it just felt like not enough and then way over the top respectively. But despite these short comings the interplay between Cox and Hirsch was good, with nice give and take especially in the early autopsy stages. It felt like you were watching an actual father and son doing their jobs together, and even as it all fell apart (the horror aspect in play) they played well off each other. There were some scenes that felt rushed, like when Stanley dies, obvious emotional moments but they get pushed aside quickly to advance the further antics of Jane Doe, because she’s a wily one.
I’ve seen enough movies from IFC Midnight that as soon as I saw the logo I was severely concerned I was about to watch something of less than awesome quality. Fortunately IFC has stepped up it’s game a bit in what movies it produces (yea?) or distributes, and I’ve been pleasantly surprised by some, including The Autopsy of Jane Doe. It was well shot, with good direction on the vagueness of the threats that were present to the father-son duo. The tension instilled throughout each scene was skillfully built upon into the next without a real let up, making me feel rather wound up by the point we made it to the elevator scene. But everything seemed to unwind at this point, no fault to the director for the most part, the story just untwisted itself with tension, and then left us with a wound up tangled mess of a story.
The story for the most part was very well done, paced nicely with lots of tension as I said, though it never did make me care for the characters, well except Stanley (the cat) but that’s because he’s a cat. Even with Jane Doe I felt disconnected from her for the entirety of the movie, despite all the things done to her they aren’t presented in a way that makes them feel “real” to the viewer, and by that I mean present. This left me feeling somewhat dispassionate about what happened to any of them, which was a real shame because they were well crafted characters. And then there’s the mess an ending.
While the actual explanation of who Jane Doe is is quite interesting and caught my attention, the means by which we arrived there are rushed and bounding over large gaps of logic. In the final moments of Jane Doe’s havoc, we get a rushed explanation of who she is, where she’s from, and how she ended up here. All of the previous hour and twenty minutes building and building up to a big reveal and we get it thrown at us like a hail mary in the final seconds of a game, with such rush and lackluster feeling, that even the good acting of the two mains can’t save it, even though it’s obvious they tried to make it seem reasonable. I love movies that slow burn, a few jump scares, and then build up to shocking or unexpected ends, but they usually do so by using the last fifteen minutes to play that out with detailed dialogue or footage. Here, we just get a string of stilted nearly unconnected sentences that formulate a hypothesis that makes Tommy do a complete 180 on his scientific approach. And he does so with such willingness that it almost seems as though he’d always felt that way and was just hiding it because he didn’t wan’t to freak people out. At any rate the ending was obvious (after the reveal) and rather tired. I was hopeful for so much more given how the movie began.
The Autopsy of Jane Doe mixes multiple genres together in a rather unique way. With good actors, strong direction, and a solid intro and middle it feels good to watch, like there is solid substance to what is to come, but unfortunately it all unravels at the end. With a rushed, and slightly obscure explanation, combined with a formulaic ending it all just feels like we aren’t even watching the same movie we were an hour earlier. Is it worth watching, absolutely. Will it be what you’re expecting, probably not. The characters feel unreal by the end, the story is a little slipshod, and it really isn’t scary. But the mystery was enough to salvage the movie for me and make it a fun watch. I think this movie could just be okay for some, and quite good for others. It may depend on your mood, but still give it a go.
Overall: 4/5 (genre)