Part CSI mystery, part supernatural anomaly, this film is a riot from start to finish. It’s a creation from the mind of Andre Ovredal, the director who brought us Trollhunter back in 2010, and something about it feels different than other horror films out there at the moment, breaking the horror mould a little.
Shot almost entirely in one location, it’s the story of a body found in a basement where an entire family have been killed, which is brought to the small local morgue to be examined. The morgue is the domain of father-son team Tommy and Austin Tilden (Emile Hirsch and Brian Cox), who work together and live in a house over the family business. The body is that of a beautiful young woman (Olwen Kelly), who appears to have no obvious cause of death at first, until they start to realise that she was brutally tortured under strange and eerie circumstances. Circumstances that don’t entirely make scientific sense. And then… weird and terrible things start to happen.
There are two things that make this film so entertaining. Firstly, the natural and affectionate relationship between father and son, and that there are some issues that they have been avoiding talking about, like the death of the family matriarch and the son leaving the family business. It feels very real and natural, and draws you into the lives of the Tilden family. You like them, so you want to see what happens. And you care about what happens to them.
Secondly, The Autopsy of Jane Doe relishes in the slow, creeping supernatural elements of the plot. Piece by piece, layers of the mystery unfold, with the woman slowly having the secrets of her death revealed, and the scares building in the same measured way, not coming at you all at once. It sets the feel and tone to put you on edge before using any gore or jump scares and it’s a formula that works so well in the small space: just the morgue, the father, the son and the dead girl.
But as the mystery builds, the film really does get scary, with gore, horror and jump scares and all the wonderful stuff you could want from a horror film. And it’s all the more scary for being based in that claustrophobic space, with just those few characters.
Perhaps lesser actors wouldn’t have been able to do so much with the material: it’s not a large film, it’s more down-home, simple, and relies on the core relationship, the mystery and the growing dread of knowing that something very bad is coming, and coming after people you like. But that’s what’s so fun about it. It’s carefully thought out, there are no plot holes, and the effects are so good.
The mysterious story of who this girl is and why she was found where she was found, which adds to this engaging thrilller. It’s horrifying, terrible and makes you feel almost conflicted about who really is the bad guy in this story, if only just for a second.
It’s one of my favourite horror flicks of the last 12 months, and I hope that Ovredal continues in this vein. One to watch. But don’t expect to be able to sleep easily afterwards…
The Autopsy of Jane Doe is out on DVD & Blu-Ray now!