Monday, 7 August 2017

Review: The Autopsy of Jane Doe


The Autopsy of Jane Doe (spoilers in the footnotes)
Cert: 15 / 85 mins / Dir. André Øvredal / Trailer

A quick heads-up before we get started here, I've said this before on several occasions but it feels like I'm now past Horror™ as a genre. Not so much that I've 'grown out of it', but certainly that most of the mainstream fare I see nowadays just reminds me in some way of the utter trash I used to enjoy as a teenager. Almost like I've inadvertently spoiled it for myself. Logically unfeasible antagonists and telegraphed jump-scares no longer hold my interest, because if a film has to 'tell' you to feel scared, that's the horror equivalent of casting Kevin Hart in a comedy. But I'm always willing (time permitting) to give a movie a whirl on recommendation from friends whose opinion I trust. Anyway, I think you know why I've brought all this up first...

The Autopsy of Jane Doe follows the father-and-son pathologist team of Tommy and Austen Tilden, working in a small U.S. county mortuary and crematorium. When the body of a young woman is unearthed from a murder scene and brought in by the police one evening, the Tildens work late to try and identify a cause of death, even though there are no external signs of trauma or decomposition. As the post-mortem progresses it becomes increasingly irregular, as do the occurrences in the mortuary itself...

I've said this before as well: it all comes down to the writing. What begins seeming like an unassuming also-ran horror flick slowly turns into... an unassuming also-ran horror flick. That a pair of 'meat-detectives' would stumble across evidence of supernatural secrets as part of their work is a fair idea for a movie, but most of Autopsy… plays out like a greatest-hits reel of the genre's most over-used tropes. From the flickering lights and power-cuts, to the gathering storm outside and eerily juxtaposed songs playing unbidden on the radio*2, this is a well-trodden path to be walking down. The scalpel-happy pair even helpfully write their clues on a blackboard throughout the film, just to assist with the callbacks.

Things are just about saved by solid performances*3 from Brian Cox and Emile Hirsch as the central duo, not to mention Olwen Kelly as the eponymous Jane (albeit without saying a single word). But they're struggling with a script which is as unwieldy as their business's clients, so maybe Olwen's got the better end of the bargain, here.

Writers Ian Goldberg and Richard Naing don't appear to have any significant genre-work in their CVs, so maybe this is just an early stumble until they find their feet. I hope so, because there's definitely potential here for a smarter film. At only 86 minutes it's by no means lengthy, so fair play to them for waiting until the 45-mark before the shit really hits the fan*4. Unfortunately, that's also when things become completely mechanical (the 'smoke' scene in particular feels like it was filmed in post-production after the budget had ran out).

None of The Autopsy Of Jane Doe is badly done per se, I just feel like I've seen it all before. Probably during the late 1980s when I'd be hanging around Ritz Video's horror-section.

This cast, this cinematographer, this director. But with a better screenplay, please…

So, watch this if you enjoyed?
You can tell it wants to be a modern-day The VVitch, but it's Oculus at best (and even that's far better).

Is it worth hunting out on DVD / Blu-ray / Video-on-demand, though?
Best to use your streaming service of choice; there's not much in here for repeat viewings unless you're a makeup-effects artist.

Does the film achieve what it sets out to do?
For me, no.

Is this the best work of the cast or director?

Will I think less of you if we disagree about how good/bad this film is?

Yes, but is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?

Yes, but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 2: This film's got that Brian Cox in it, and he was in 1971's Nicholas and Alexandra along with Julian 'Veers' Glover.

And if I HAD to put a number on it…

*1 Because I can't really complain about my local cinema not showing enough new movies and complain that I never have time to watch stuff at home, now can I? [ BACK ]

*2 Why would a witch from the 17th century be fixated on a song from 1954? Really, mate... [ BACK ]

*3 Although the sight of Emile Hirsch kneeling over a body and sobbing "No-o-o-o!" brought back the one scene in Star Wars that even I can't stand[ BACK ]

*4 Hang on a minute, Tommy Tilden needs to put on his glasses to read a reference book but not to dissect a body? He's meant to be looking for minute clues in the cause-of-death, here. Small-stuff. And what the fuck's he doing waving a scalpel around? I know it's not like he's going to unnecessarily injure his subjects, but I'm surprised Tommy's still got all his fingers… [ BACK ]

• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
• Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.
• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

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