The Autopsy of Jane Doe

Year: 2016
Production Co: 42
Director: André Øvredal
Writer: Ian Goldberg/Richard Naing
Cast: Brian Cox, Emile Hirsch, Olwen Catherine Kelly

I watched this film because I'd read somewhere it was the scariest film ever made, but in hindsight I might have had it mixed up with something else, maybe The Exorcism of Emily Rose, which I haven't seen yet as I write these words.

It's an effective little chiller that doesn't stand out a great deal from the pack apart from two things. First, neither Brian Cox and a (very stiff) Emile Hirsch are two actors I'd imagine in what's essentially a straight to video-quality horror movie at each respective stage of their careers.

Bt the last thing I saw Hirsch in was the abysmal The Darkest Hour and the talented Cox has been quiet for a long while now so maybe they both had pool renovations or tax bills.

The second thing is that, to the film's credit, the titular dead body never leaps into a sitting position to scream or suddenly grabs an unsuspecting wrist nearby. You're waiting for that to happen in any movie that features a corpse because we're so used to it, but it's a cheap and overused gag director André Øvredal (from a script by Ian Goldberg and Richard Naing) resists.

Other than that it's a fairly plodding horror procedural with a few jump scares but nothing terribly memorable.

Cox and Hirsch are father and son coroners Tommy and Austin, highly regarded in the local community, trusted by the cops and whose autopsy, medical and embalming rooms are below ground in a kind of bunker, hallowed ground for a haunted body story.

Austin is about to go out with his girlfriend when the sheriff brings in the body of a young woman, a corpse that's been unearthed in a house where they're investigating a multiple homicide. Everything about the case makes sense except for the well-preserved young woman buried in the dirt of the cellar who apparently had nothing to do with the crime.

They start their work, the older man schooling his son on the secrets dead bodies give up if you know what to look for, and then things start getting weird.

As they find more outlandish clues in and around the young woman's body, the two men hear the radio spontaneously change stations. Austin thinks he sees figures standing in the dank hallways. Their pet cat disappears and then shows up badly mauled. Noises start emanating from the freezer drawers where they're storing other bodies, and they'll eventually find the drawers empty, something crashing on the doors of the examination room to try and get inside.

In true horror movie fashion a huge storm blows up outside, the elevator malfunctions and a tree falls across the tornado shelter-style exit from the emergency stairs, both men trapped inside with an ever-rising series of horrors.

I won't reveal what the woman is or what's behind all the weird goings on, but it makes sense out of the rest of the story and its a fairly imaginative little bit of mythology – discoveries like the writing imprinted on the inside of her skin are arresting and heighten the scariness of the mystery – and while it probably couldn't have made any more out of it, a scarier movie would have made more impact.

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