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The Autopsy of Jane Doe (Movie Review)

The Autopsy of Jane Doe (Movie Review)
5 10

PLOT: Small-town father-and-son coroners (Brian Cox and Emile Hirsch) perform an emergency, late-night autopsy on the corpse of a young woman whose biology makes no sense.

REVIEW: Of all the films I’ve seen at TIFF this year (nearly twenty as writing this), André Ovredal’s THE AUTOPSY OF JANE DOE is the most frustrating. For a full half of the ninety minute running time, I was convinced I was watching one of the best horror sleepers to come along in years, only to have the carpet pulled out from under me by an utterly conventional, often stupid second half that undid all the goodwill I had built up for the film.

The hook to this one is great, with a small-town sheriff discovering a pristine corpse at a crime scene and having two regular guy coroners examine the body (during a huge storm no less) to discover the cause of death. And really, it couldn’t have been cast-better, with Brian Cox and Emile Hirsch playing the father-and-son, and both bringing the best of their abilities to the parts and really conveying a sense of history and love between the two - something which would often be overlooked in a movie like this.

Cox is the veteran coroner, reeling from the recent death of his wife and maybe relying too much on the help of his medical technician son to keep the business going. Hirsch, as said son, hopes for more stimulating work and a different kind of life with his girlfriend (Ophelia Lovibond) but also loves the old man and wants to help him out. There’s no resentment between the two - as it’s shown they really do love each other and work well together as a team.

The early scenes with them opening up the corpse (the striking Olwen Catherine Kelly) are great, with her bizarre wounds and the pristine condition of the outside of her body suggesting something otherworldly. It’s very cool as they look for clues and examine the horribly scarred organs, finding ritualistic wounds, old shrouds, and more. So far, so good. Up to here Ovredal (TROLL HUNTER) seems to be making one hell of a U.S debut.

Too bad it’s almost at exactly the half-way mark that the film really goes-off-the-rails, with it becoming just another horror thriller with walking corpses, buckets of blood and little imagination. The ultimate identity of the corpse is shocking in its lack of originality, and even the best efforts of Cox and Hirsch aren’t able to keep it from going awry.

It feels almost like Ovredal was forced to compromise what, up to this point, had been a terrific little character study/elevated horror film by checking-off the requisite horror boxes. It all becomes so horribly predictable that by the time the end credits rolled I was shaking my head in disbelief at how completely the film had lost me - as when it started I was thinking this was the best horror film I’d seen in ages.

Still, Cox and Hirsch are so good, as is that first half, that AUTOPSY OF JANE DOE isn’t a total wash, even if the second half is extremely silly. At the very least, it’s a half-good film, but that’s a small comfort when up to a certain point I thought I was watching something really special.

Extra Tidbit: This review originally ran as part of our TIFF coverage. AUTOPSY hits VOD on 12/21

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