Movie Review: "The Autopsy of Jane Doe" (2016)
I've promised y'all, my hardy band of loyal peeps, that I will always let you know when I come across a movie that hits that sweet spot. There are, after all, good movies and great movies. The differences between them are often small- a continuity break that throws off the timing and pace, a character that doesn't jibe, leaps of faith that just don't make sense. We can push our way through those lapses when the movie has heart or balls or a real message delivered with a deft hand.
The great ones manage to pull you in from the first frame and keep you in that place where the other shit around you doesn't matter. Your phone doesn't matter. Your Facebook or Twitter account or texts don't matter. You wish your significant other would just shut the holy hell up and let you be there. That's the sweet spot.
Thankfully, I follow The Master (better known to the world as Stephen King) on Twitter and Facebook. He doesn't often recommend movies, but when he does you should probably take notice. He is America's greatest pure storyteller, after all. He said "THE AUTOPSY OF JANE DOE: Visceral horror to rival ALIEN and early Cronenberg. Watch it, but not alone."
I could end the review there, but I'm not. If you're still reading then you presumably want my take.
The setup is simple and beautiful: we are introduced to Austin Tilden (Emile Hirsch- "The Girl Next Door"), the son of a mortician and, himself, a certified medical techinician. He lives with his widower father, Tommy Tilden (the amazing Brian Cox- "Braveheart", "Super Troopers"), in their ancestral family mortuary. Austin is a normal young man with a beautiful girlfriend who just wants some of his time to go and catch a movie. She pines for his undivided affection and attention, but he can't bear to abandon his grieving father, even 2 years removed from his mother's death. There's a remarkably touching connection between the two that works marvelously without a hint of horror or danger.
Austin is on the verge of walking out the door with his lady when the local sheriff shows up with the body of a young lady found at a grisly crime scene with multiple deaths. The catch? She wasn't murdered along with the rest. She was found, half buried, in the soil of the dead family's cellar. Jane Doe appears completely unharmed and PRESERVED, and the cause of her death is a true mystery. That mystery, combined with the concern for his father, keeps Austin on the job and the father and son get to work on the methodical autopsy of this Jane Doe.
I dare not go further. It's not the kind of movie you want to spoil. Suffice to say they find one bizarre and inexplicable possible cause of death and/or bodily damage after another, and yet here she lay in her preserved state. As they progress through the stages of the autopsy (exam, external, internal, removal) strange things begin to happen. The radio gets crazy and plays old religious songs. The lights flicker. The power goes in and out. Outside, a motherfucker of a storm begins to rage. What exactly is going on?
The way this movie works as an interpersonal relationship tale is deftly performed by two fine actors. Your eyes are drawn to the building tension, which isn't in your face but actually the opposite.
Then the horror hits. It pulls no punches. It does use some common tropes of the genre, like the peering through the crack in the door, the auditory creeping doom and, yes, the jump scare, but it doesn't feel heavy handed. I think it's a timing thing. They hit the right notes.
Sai King said it best when he compared it to both "Aliens" and early David Cronenberg (like "Scanners", "The Brood", "Rabid", etc). It's the kind of movie that finds you looking over your shoulder while wondering if that itch you're feeling has been there this whole time. And you don't just scratch it- you check that motherfucker visually. It gets under your skin. Finally, when you think you might have a handle on what the deal is, you get a nice jaw-dropper.
Then you get the pay off on the jaw-dropper. And let's face it, folks- in the world of horror, the payoff is often forgotten for the sake of the shock. Not here.
If I had to summarize in short form (not my style, ha ha!!) I would say that this is a new horror film that feels old in the best way possible. If you don't feel that sense of dread and simultaneously emotional and visceral horror then maybe horror just isn't your thing.
This one is is a legit 9/10. It's strong and well crafted and everything a horror flick should be when all of the lights are out.