Tommy (Brian Cox) and his son, Austin (Emile Hirsch), are coroners in a small town in Virginia. One night, a Jane Doe (Olwen Kelly) is brought in for examination. Shortly after they begin the autopsy, weird things begin happening around them and they try to solve the mystery of who this woman is.
When I went to Toronto ComiCon this year, one of the booths I visited was for Raven Banner Entertainment. While perusing their movie selection, I came across The Autopsy of Jane Doe and remembering being intrigued by the trailer, and after talking with the guy in the booth for a bit, I picked it up. In the time since, I have heard a lot of praise for the film so I was eager to finally watch it. Maybe I missed something but I wasn’t drawn in like everyone seems to be.
I’ll give this movie its credit. It did a fantastic job of creating an eerie atmosphere. The entire film takes place in one location and is claustrophobic. It reminded me a lot of the video game Dead Space where it took place in a tight location and used that confined space to build the tension. Things like light and sound become very important and elevate the movie. Every small thing you see in the corner of your eye draws your attention because you know something is around the corner waiting to jump out and you can’t help but think that might be the thing. Then surprise! It’s not. This is a classic horror trope but in such a confining environment, the effect is amplified.
Since this movie takes place in a single confined space, the film rested on Brian Cox’s and Emile Hirsch’s shoulders. Thankfully, they were up to the task. This could have been one of those films where they simply phoned it in and make it seem like they were there just for the check. But no, they put an effort into their parts and it shows. Besides the great atmosphere, Cox and Hirsch make the watch worthwhile.
About the first half of the film is spent on performing the autopsy. As Tommy (Cox) and Austin (Hirsch) make their way through their examination, we slowly learn more and more about the body, which in turn builds and builds the mystery about Jane Doe. This is probably what I like most about this film. There is this “character” who never moves or says anything for the entire movie and yet she is still interesting and just as captivating as the characters who walk around and speak. That is a very hard thing to accomplish but director André Øvredal pulled it off without a sweat. It might move fairly slowly for the first portion of the film but it works out to great effect.
Now here is the problem I had with this movie: I didn’t feel any fear or tension. As a horror, I wasn’t scared. As a psychological thriller, I didn’t feel tense. I know I just said the film did a great job to build the tension, and it did, but I didn’t feel tense, if that makes sense. I could tell there was tension but I didn’t feel it. I thought it was predicable which took me out of the horror element of it. The build up was great and the film was interesting once it started ramping up but I unfortunately wasn’t drawn in to it like I feel I should have been.
I thought The Autopsy of Jane Doe was OK 😐 Horrors are not unlike comedies where the success of the film depends completely on the audience’s reaction to it. In comedies, it comes down to if the director can make them laugh. For horrors, it depends on if they can make the audience be scared or feel tense. Regrettably, I did not have that feeling from this movie. It did everything right, from the characters to the mystery to the atmosphere, I just wasn’t engaged by it. I’m sorry André Øvredal, it’s not you, it’s me.
My Toronto ComiCon buddy, Kim, also picked this film up from the Raven Banner booth. You can read her review of this film here. Spoiler alert: she enjoyed it more than I did.
Cast & Crew
André Øvredal – Director
Ian Goldberg – Writer
Richard Naing – Writer
Danny Bensi – Composer
Saunder Jurriaans – Composer
Brian Cox – Tommy
Emile Hirsch – Austin
Olwen Kelly – Jane Doe
Ophelia Lovibond – Emma
Michael McElhatton – Sheriff Burke
Jane Perry – Lieutenant Wade