Creepy mystery in a morgue.
The Autopsy of Jane Doe might have crept under your radar (it did mine), but this is a mean little mystery/horror film that delivers in a lot of areas.
Tommy (Brian Cox) and Austin (Emile Hirsch) are a father-son team of coroners who work in Tommy’s basement. After a mysterious domestic murder, an unknown corpse is found half exhumed in a basement. The corpse, named Jane Doe, does not fit into the crime, and the sheriff demands a quick answer to what the cause of death is to keep the press at bay. Something in the crime simply doesn’t make sense, so it is up to Tommy and Austin to shed some light on what happened.
While there are solid performances from side characters, Cox and Hirsch carry the narrative with Jane Doe (Olwen Catherine Kelly). It is odd to think of a corpse being such an important character, but Kelly’s presence in the scenes adds a powerful level of tragedy, voyeurism, and mystery. The film’s first half (or so) is a procedural mystery that works well. The characters are smart, and they stay smart even when bizarre events occur around them. I cannot praise this movie enough for delivering on smart characters.
Tommy is a man of science, and he defaults back to evidence, hypothesis, and past experience constantly. Jane Doe’s body shows no visible wounds, but her inside is beaten, cut, and burned. Tommy’s smarts can’t crack the mystery immediately, but his calm demeanor (and the characteristic Cox gruffness) make him both likable and believable. Austin might be easier to relate to, as he gets scared much quicker, but he is also the less rational of the two. They work together in an excellent team.
Each new grisly discovery carries a good amount of creep and interest. The film is a slow burner, which is something I tend to prefer.
Once the mystery of Jane Doe begins to come into focus, the strange events gain traction and force. The film becomes more of a familiar haunted house—albeit with some twists. The quality of the film never dips, but the uniqueness of the experience withers a bit.
I would say this film is for fans of the smarter horror films like The Conjuring who want something a little less abstract than The VVitch. Jane Doe tries to balance both of these areas of horror, and is mostly successful. I found the spectacle got a little out of control in the last fifteen minutes (granted, this is something that could be said of almost every horror movie). Strong performances and smart characters make this a film worth seeing. 7.75/10.