Squeamish about surgery or morgues? Probably want to stay away from this devilishly detailed horror.
When small town police find a house filled with murder victims and one strangely preserved corpse half buried in the basement, they have the mysterious body sent to the local morgue and crematorium. There, a father and son team of surgeons work to uncover what happened to the woman…
Directed by André Øvreda, who brought us the very good and very witty Troll Hunter, The Autopsy of Jane Doe is a fantastically paced and claustrophobic horror film.
Set almost entirely within the basement of a country house were a family run morgue has been established for decades, the film follows Tommy (Brian Cox – The Bourne Ultimatum) and his son Austin (Emile Hirsch – Into the Wild) after they are handed a cadaver of an unknown woman with less than twenty-four hours to determine cause of death.
The film is a slow boil. Set in the almost antiquated surroundings of a basement morgue, the film deliberately pretends nothing is afoot at first; it is simply two men doing an autopsy. But the atmosphere and the director’s fascination on details, grisly, uncomfortable details, like fractured bones, missing teeth or scarring, put you immediately on edge. The film’s production value living up to the requirements of showing these details in a human autopsy. The initial setup leaves you vulnerable for suggestive direction, which the second act plays directly into. It constantly subverts expectations within the first half of the runtime, sowing unease as it goes.
I do love films that have a narrow focus and are set in a single location.
Brian Cox is great in this film. Ever since I watched X-Men 2 he has been an actor I’ve watched out for. Despite this being a genre film, the film’s narrow focus allows him some deeper material to work with.
I wouldn’t want to spoil anything, so this is a short review. This is a mystery movie first, a horror movie second, but everything ramps up in tension and in content as we enter the third act. The film’s premise is such a simple one that it becomes more devilish as the stakes are raised.
I would say there’s a few horror tropes used that don’t really fit the film’s clearly subvertive and unique design. For example: “Oooo, the morgue freezer door opened by itself! Ooo!” They cheapen it a little more than perhaps they were designed to. I feel like there might have been cleverer ways of maintaining the film’s credibility during the escalating horror.
But, this is clearly a massively underrated horror experience. While some audiences might think the slow build is tedious in light of “successful” franchises such as Insidious, this film does what so few horrors actually achieve. It builds tension, plays with your mind and keeps you intrigued as it goes.
Turn off the lights and watch. I highly recommend it for horror fans. A claustrophobic mystery horror.