What a lot of horror directors fail to understand about filmmaking is that sometimes what we don’t see can be more terrifying than what we can. That’s why Robert Wise’s “The Haunting” is still so impeccably terrifying, while the remake is such a lemon. There’s no room for imagination or perhaps the concept that what is menacing these characters is too horrendous for our minds to comprehend. The main reason why “The Autopsy of Jane Doe” is so incredible is because director André Ovredal is brilliant about restraint and time and time again introduces us to a villain who remains a specter in our imagination. “The Autopsy of Jane Doe” genuinely spooked me, and that’s because director André Ovredal combines all the strongest elements of a horror tale and creates one of the most unlikely horror villains of all time.
One afternoon police happen upon a crime scene of a brutally murdered family, all of whom were slain under mysterious circumstances. The police discover the preserved body of a young girl they brand as Jane Doe, and decide to ship her off to the local morgue. Run by father and son Austin and Tommy, the troubled pair of men, one of whom still reeling from the loss of his wife. Meanwhile son Tommy is confronting relationship troubles, are given Jane Doe to investigate the cause of her death. As Austin and Tommy hole up in their basement morgue dissecting Jane Doe, mysterious events begin to plague the pair. Before long, Austin and Tommy realize that they’re being terrorized by an unseen force, and Jane Doe may have the answers within her seemingly long deceased corpse.
What I really admired and adored about “The Autopsy of Jane Doe” is that director André Ovredal successfully injects a sense of claustrophobia where a seemingly comfortable zone becomes a nightmarish hell zone for these two unwitting men. The basement and morgue upon which these pair of men dwells becomes a metaphor for their lives, as they’re still coming to grips with their own grief. Ironically the moment they realize this force of evil is preying on them, their own environment becomes their undoing as they fight to make it back to the surface. Emile Hirsch and Brian Cox are two brilliant character actors that work beautifully together, playing a dad and son connected by death. Their evolution from complete disbelief at the scenario they find themselves in, to men trying to comprehend the supernatural circumstances and use it as a means of survival is tense.
They simply are not the same people we meet when the film ends, and André Ovredal turns their comfortable rut in to a villainous tomb where every corner has potential to end their lives. One of the more underrated performances of the year is from Olwen Kelly who plays a seemingly deadpan corpse, but within her blank gaze, nuances of her sinister persona become apparent. Whether it’s a trick of light by André Ovredal, or Kelly’s performance is genius based mainly on its subtlety and her talent for conveying slick expressions with every scene. Maybe it’s just our imagination, or maybe there’s so much more to Jane Doe than we realize it. Even when the film draws to a close, it remains a mystery that keeps us compelled. André Ovredal manages to mount tension and terror by manipulating our sight and toying with sound constantly.
“The Autopsy of Jane Doe” eventually elevates to a peak terror to where we can never be sure if the corpse we’ve met is pure evil, or if these men are simply doing battle with their own trauma and gripping emotional troubles. In either case, André Ovredal’s film is a pure horror gem that kept me squirming until the final unsettling moment.
Featured in the Blu-Ray release are two TV spots for the film, featured in HD. There are also two teaser trailers for the original film, and the official theatrical trailer for “The Autopsy of Jane Doe.”