Father-son coroners, Austin and Tommy Tilden, of a long line of Tilden coroners, prove that nepotism has its fatal flaws.
Readying to take the night off from cutting and snipping and slicing and dicing into corpses to determine to cause of death (CoD), the duo are delivered an unidentified female body and asked to work throughout the late evening to arrive at an answer in regards to the circumstances of her death. Much to their dismay, mysterious supernatural events tail the cadaver to their family corpse cellar.
Emile Hirsh (or as I have come to know him as Leonardo DiCaprio 2.0) and Brian Cox star as son and father respectively, two of the only real characters in focus besides the naked Olwen Kelly who portrays a pretty convincing carcass, neither a breath or a blink seen to be taken, apparently assisted by the actress’ yoga. In this respect, the scope of the film is, pardon the pun, pretty bare bones, scripted in a similar fashion as stripped-back thrillers the likes of Devil, Buried or Wasted. Character and tight plotting are in the limelight of this mysterious supernatural thriller/horror then, so it is satisfying that the few actors cast are effective in propelling the plot forward.
As the three stages of autopsy are undertaken, more questions arise that not even the professionals can answer – the dead woman’s tongue is missing, her ankles and wrists are broken with no sign of swelling on the exterior, her lung and organs are badly burned and scarred with nary a scratch on the surface of her skin. So, for the most part, this is follows a mystery thriller storyline, and offers some genuinely creepy and intriguing moments that had me leaning forward on the sofa, attempting to figure out the answers to the mystery – who is Jane Doe and how did she die? More prominently is how Olwen Kelly managed to stay so still and calm as Brian Cox peers and pokes into her every orifice.
Though I feel the red herring that really solidifies the nature of the supernatural events and answers the biggest questions came a little too early, it comes late enough to still make unravelling the mysteries a thrilling experience. Once the filmmakers decide it is time to explain who Jane is and how she died, the father and son connecting the dots and concluding what regular horror audiences and supernatural eggheads may have guessed quite some time prior, the film transitions from mystery/thriller to horror/thriller, with some creeping atmosphere, the clever use of a mirror, some good old-fashioned jump scares used sparsely and to great effect. The dated mortuary set coupled with some well-crafted cinematography makes for one of the best horror films I have seen this year thus far.
Reeling back the in-your-face horror elements for the first two-thirds in favour of atmospheric chills and mystery is an effective method in horror production – the feelings of unease are driven into the viewer for most of the film, bolstering the final scares in bloodier or more violent or inherently horrific fashions. Our reactions to the conclusive carnage is boosted tenfold as dread has already seeped in via the slow-burning story. The Autopsy of Jane Doe excels in this respect, like stellar horror The Babadook before it – enough time is given to character to ensure we feeling something, if just a shred, of something that we would not otherwise feel towards the clichéd characters rooted into this bloody genre, whether it’s of supernatural or slasher or spatter or torture porn subgenre varieties.
Recommend this film, I do. Watch it, you must. I have, in fact, not caught a good horror in some time now, neglecting one of my personal favourite genres in place of high concept television and other genres. Stephen King’s It is still on the cards, but other than Raw, it seems to have been quite a stale year for horror films so far. My eye will be peeled, though I can’t promise they won’t sting and tear up and make me blink unlike the cold dead eyes of Jane Doe.
The Film Fanatic