Andre Ovredal’s The Autopsy of Jane Doe is a brisk and largely effective experience that focuses on a profession not often explored in the movies: morticians. They’re the father and son team of Tommy (Brian Cox) and Austin Tilden (Emile Hirsch), Virginia coroners given an unusual late night assignment.
The title character has been delivered to them after being discovered at a grisly homicide scene. Jane Doe (Olwen Catherine Kelly) is a beautiful twenty something found in the basement of a house where the crime occurred. The other victims are marked with the bloody injuries you’d come to expect. Her corpse is in pristine condition.
As the duo pry away at her body, the cause of her demise becomes even more confounding. What’s inside of Jane Doe can’t explain her outward appearance. The Tildens begin to question who or what they have lying on the slab. And that’s when the supernatural elements kick in.
The screenplay doesn’t dwell much on character development or backstory. There is a couple minutes on Tildens family history that’s not really necessary, but it’s thankfully brief. What is dwelled upon is close ups of Jane’s cold gray eyes and other cut open features. You begin to wonder when and if those eyes will blink or move. In many ways, it is Kelly’s performance that’s the most expressive and she never utters a word.
The screenplay succeeds at turning Cox and Hirsch into amateur sleuths as they go about their assignment. Cox’s Tommy is the veteran who thought he’d seen it all while Hirsch’s Austin is still his apprentice in the nearly 100 year old family business. This is a different and often original kind of detective story before the scare tactics take over the second half.
It’s the first half that succeeds the best as we wonder where this is all leading. Once we’re clued in, the explanation makes some sense (not always the case in this genre). The Autopsy of Jane Doe is also sensible in being quick and efficient with enough suspense to keep horror enthusiasts happy.
*** (out of four)