Released December, 23 2016. Directed by Andre Ovredal and stars Brian Cox, Emile Hirsch, and Ophelia Lovibond.
Andre Ovredal is not a well known name stateside, except for those people who watched Trollhunter (2010), a surprisingly good found footage film. I enjoyed Trollhunter, although struggled through a bit of it, due in part to some of the natural downfalls of the genre, most specifically excessive shaky cam, limited depth of story, and etc.
I watched the trailer for The Autopsy of Jane Doe late last year, right before the movie was scheduled for its theatrical release. I'll be honest, I was guarded. I love horror, but there is so much schlock to navigate around in the genre that I spend the vast majority of the time ignoring it altogether. But then I started to read some reviews. Not only did it have a positive rating on Metacritic, but it sported a very positive 85% freshness rating on Rotten Tomatoes. And so, I was interested.
The movie opens up as the local Sheriff is investigating a rather gruesome scene of a multiple homicide. Everyone in the house is dead. And...there is the partially buried body of a young woman in the basement. I loved this sequence, and Ovredal didn't spoil it with any voice over, scrolling text, or unnecessary exposition. The atmosphere and tone starts here, and are carried well throughout the film. Next we are introduced to Brian Cox and Emile Hirsch, a father-son duo that runs a mortuary/morgue. Their introductory scene does a nice job establishing their relationship, as well as credibility in their field. I have seen both actors in movies before (more Brian Cox), but have to say that I really liked the interplay and chemistry between them. Their relationship felt natural, and their wasn't any of that "forced tension" between them that is gratuitously used in horror movies. In fact, it is the strong bond between these characters that makes them more likable, but also ratchets up the tension as the plot builds, as we genuinely care for both of them.
There is a fair does of very realistic gore as the two go about the unenviable task of investigating the dead, cataloging their results, and in the end, breaking through to the truth of people's deaths. As gruesome as it appeared, I found the autopsy moments tasteful and interesting - and for the plot, necessary.
As the movie continues and the conflict tightens, Ovredal mercifully avoids most of the oft-used tropes of horror movies. I won't list them off, but just know that you are safe from cheesy and gimmicky jump scares, stupid characters running in the wrong direction, and on and on. The mystery of Jane Doe remains the central and compulsory element at play, and although the father and son duo come to some conclusions, they all feel natural and well earned - as confusing as they are. You don't have those "they find something, or come to a realization moment because the plot needs them to" moments which serve only to move the plot along for the viewer. Each turn and twist in this movie feels organic, and thus, helps add to the steady, creeping sense of dread that gradually builds from beginning, and culminates in the end.
Was I happy with the ending? Yes, to a degree. It doesn't spell everything out for you, but just like the rest of the movie, keeps your imagination engaged and forces you to draw most of your own conclusions. I think the movie could have been a bit longer, building on the underlying themes in play, but that is a nit pick on my part. After all, there is only so much you can reasonably do with the story, especially considering the very claustrophobic aspects of the set.
In the end, Ovredal has crafted a very good horror movie - one that will leave you pondering what it all meant, what it will mean, and exactly where the story moves forward, off camera of course. If you're like me, you will undoubtedly be considering these things long after the credits roll. That, my friends, is what makes great movies. I will take The Autopsy of Jane Doe as a good sign - that there is good, smart, and intellectual horror/thrillers on the horizon. I welcome a second coming of directors like Hitchcock, whom respected the intellectual capacity of his viewers, sought to challenge them, and respected the power of the twist.
Overall - two thumbs up!