Movie Review: The Autopsy of Jane Doe

With Hungry Ghost Month just around the corner (it starts this year on August 22, in case you’re interested), the cinemas in Hong Kong have started pulling out their scary films to get audiences in the mood. From the US (sort of… more about that below) comes THE AUTOPSY OF JANE DOE, a tale of a demonic spirit that just won’t die.

The film opens at the scene of a gruesome domestic homicide in a quiet Virginia town. At first, Sheriff Burke (Michael McElhatton, GOT’s Roose Bolton) thinks that it’s a break-and-enter gone horribly wrong but he and his men quickly see that the couple weren’t killed while trying to stop people from coming inside. They were killed while trying to get out. All the doors and windows were locked from the inside. To add to the mystery, they find the body of a beautiful, young woman (played by Olwen Catherine Kelly) partially buried in the couple’s basement. Even more strange is that there doesn’t seem to be any outward sign of trauma on her body. Under pressure to provide some details to the press by the morning, Burke asks local mortician, Tony Tilden (Brian Cox, soon to be seen starring in the eponymous role in CHURCHILL), to perform a post mortem on the body right away.

Tilden runs the Tilden Morgue & Crematorium, a business his family has owned and operated for a century in the basement of their rambling American Gothic house. A widower, he’s a bit of a gruff character but he’s thorough and professional, especially when he’s training his son, Austin (Emile Hirsch, PRINCE AVALANCHE, looking a lot like a young Jason Bateman), who will one day take over the family business. Austin, for his part, secretly would like to move away from the town with his girlfriend, Emma (Ophelia Lovibond, TV’s ELEMENTARY) but he can’t find the words or the right time to tell his father.

As the two morticians start to perform their autopsy, they see that their corpse is no ordinary Jane Doe. Though she shows no rigor mortis, upon opening her up they discover that she bears evidence of extreme abuse. As they unravel her secrets, various supernatural events begin to take place around them. Our protagonists, though, are undaunted and they continue to seek the cause of Jane’s death. Jane, however, is not dead at all.

As far as horrors go, THE AUTOPSY OF JANE DOE doesn’t really break any new ground but it does deliver a few good chills and thrills along the way. To the film’s credit, freshmen screenwriters Ian Goldberg and Richard Naing endow the Tilden men some common sense. All too often when it comes to films involving ghosts and haunted houses (or spaceships, as we recently saw in the lousy film, LIFE), the story moves forward thanks to supposedly smart people making a series of dumb decisions. Tony and Austin know that something is amiss in their autopsy room but they are guided by their commitment to solving the mystery. At one point, when Tony is still unconvinced that Jane is a demon, Austin quite rightly tells his father that they are “way past” the point where that question is up for debate. Sure, the men still open doors they shouldn’t but at least they’re ready for a fight instead of remaining as lame ducks, which is often the case with films of this genre.

THE AUTOPSY OF JANE DOE is Norwegian director André Øvredal’s first film in six years and his first English-language film. Interestingly, the film was shot in England and, with the exception of Hirsch, all the main actors are from that side of the pond. No, that’s not a Virginian accent you’re hearing. Some their American accents are a bit wonky. As you watch the film, you’ll understand why the story had to be set in the US and not in the UK. Accents aside, Cox and Hirsch do good work here and they seem to have great chemistry together. The film’s big star, however, is Kelly, who lies motionless on the autopsy table for most of the film. I understand she took up yoga to learn how to control her breathing.

If you’re a fan of this genre, you could do much worse than watching THE AUTOPSY OF JANE DOE. I’m not a fan but I did manage to survive the film’s short 86 minutes no worse for wear.

Watch the review recorded on Facebook Live tomorrow morning (August 17) at 8:30 am HK time!

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