TIFF 2016 Review | ‘The Autopsy of Jane Doe’ Yields Disturbing Results
Fans of the horror genre know a stock character when they see one, and one of the all-time classic standbys is the mortician. The mortician is a character who has to be in the film, because homicide detectives don’t usually conduct autopsies themselves, but most of the time they just spout some quick exposition about the cause of death and then do something funny like nonchalantly eat a sandwich, and then they disappear into the ether because the mortician is rarely the most important character in any movie.
Which brings us to Andre Ovredal’s The Autopsy of Jane Doe, a film in which two morticians are the most important characters in the movie and, for a lot of the time, the only characters to speak of. Brian Cox and Emile Hirsch play a father-and-son team who are forced to work late when a cop drops off a mysterious corpse, one that turned up without rhyme or reason at a crime scene. All they need to do is determine the cause of death by morning, but just one look at the body reveals strange conundrums, and cutting the corpse open to examine it piece by piece reveals layer after later of bizarre new medical enigmas.
There’s a simplicity to The Autopsy of Jane Doe that has to be admired. The screenplay by Ian B. Goldberg and Richard Naing dissects the horror genre and puts just one tiny piece of it under the microscope, in a valiant effort to see if it can carry a whole story by itself. And even though the film eventually peters into conventional horror tropes by the time the third act rolls around, the majority of The Autopsy of Jane Doe is indeed an unusual and scary experiment. Whether or not you guess the film’s biggest twists, Andre Ovredal seems to understand the basic human anxieties about gazing at a recently deceased corpse, and he finds a smart balance of clinical distance and ghoulish showmanship as our heroes carve deeper into the body on their table.
The Autopsy of Jane Doe is a creepy motion picture, festering with atmosphere and frequently very frightening. It stabs you at an unusual angle and although the effect may be familiar, it’s worth noting that the filmmakers tried to do something different and that they clearly got the job done. So come up to the lab, and see what’s on the slab.
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William Bibbiani (everyone calls him ‘Bibbs’) is Crave’s film content editor and critic. You can hear him every week on The B-Movies Podcast and Canceled Too Soon, and watch him on the weekly YouTube series Most Craved, Rapid Reviews and What the Flick. Follow his rantings on Twitter at @WilliamBibbiani.