Disc Reviews

The Autopsy of Jane Doe (2016) DVD Review

The Autopsy of Jane Doe (2016) starts out as the kind of visceral procedural police type drama that David Fincher would enjoy. In fact the first half of the film is mostly focused on the autopsy table. Does that sound dull? Not a bit of it. The film opens in a house in Grantham, Virginia. Inside there are victims who have been hacked to death and a sense that terrible and horrible violence has been comitted in this place. Overall the local sheriff concludes that there is no sign of forced injury but rather that the victims were trying to escape. Also found in the cellar is the naked corpse of a young and beautiful girl half buried in clay but with no outward signs of violence. The sheriff believes that there maybe some clue as to what happened in the house through her corpse and the task is given to the coroners to find the cause of her death. The coroners are a father and son team of Tommy and Austin Tilden (Brian Cox and Emile Hirsch) and they have overnight to uncover the mystery.

To introduce the viewer to the body horror we are given a sense of their work as they pick away at the charred corpse of a burns victim. Another person in cold storage is someone with their face blown off. Austin’s girlfriend shows up and we are given the sense that there is an impending choice for Austin, either he quit or carry on with his career. Later Tommy and Austin commence work on the body of the girl they jokingly name as ‘Jane Doe’. We are told that there are four stages of the autopsy: the first stage is an external examination and already there are things that don’t make sense – a fly coming out of the dead girl’s nose, a sudden nose bleed, vaginal trauma and apparent broken wrists and ankles, part of the tongue torn out, as well as the cod eyes and no rigor-mortis. The second stage of the autopsy is an internal evaluation and this is where it starts getting weird. Blood flows where it shouldn’t, her lungs are burnt, an undigested jimson weed (a form of deadly nightshade) is found in her stomach as is a scroll with runic symbols and numbers written on it wrapping one of her teeth. It starts to seem that witchcraft is at the core of this mystery.

From here on in the film shifts gears and becomes a ghost story with possession and satanic overtones. Tommy and Austin become trapped in their subterranean lair. It is a genuinly scary and I would say probably one of the scarier films of the last few years. It is mostly original although it does threaten to collapse into cliche when the film starts to explain what’s going on. Never the less this is a worthy film from Norwegian director André Øvredal who came to prominence with the highly original tongue-in-cheek found footage horror, Troll Hunter (2010). Martin Sheen was originally set to play Brian Cox’s character but had to withdraw due to scheduling clashes. However, Cox and Hirsch are very natural in their roles and add a degree of naturalism to the film as it journeys from visceral natural thriller to pure horror fantasy. It is also very simple in that it is set purely in two locations: the initial suburban house where the murders take place and the mortuary house itself. It is this simplicity that is part of the films beauty.

The only extra on the disc is a short Q&A with director Øvredal in which he discusses how watching The Conjuring (2013) drew him to this kind of horror. Hopefully there will be more along these lines from this director.

Chris Hick

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