Amidst the bloodshed of the crime scene we are introduced to an unmarked, out of place, victim half buried in the basement of the house who hence forth is known as “Jane Doe”. It is through these events we are then introduced to father-son coroners, Austin and Tommy Tilden (Emile Hirsch and Brian Cox), who of course then meet Jane Doe. This then gives way to the paranormal as the pair begins to work on Jane Doe and her cause of death.
The very introduction of these characters and of course their gruesome trade is an entertaining one and the film isn’t without such moments that elevates it. With a plethora of crime procedural shows on TV we are no strangers to a morgue and the all too often clean cut, hi-tech, depiction. The setting of the morgue in the family home adds grit to The Autopsy of Jane Doe and further engages us with its characters.
The eerie, almost montage-esque, sequence where we see the pair work effortlessly handling body parts tricks you into a false sense of security as the backdrop of blaring music takes the edge off the elements of gore. And Ovredal cleverly weaves this playfulness throughout but still maintains a feeling of suspense and intrigue. This is where the tone is really set and you instantly begin to invest in the very likeable characters as Hirsch and Cox work well together.
As events unfold it is clear that part of the reason why the scares work is the instant feeling of intimacy in the almost claustrophobic settings. The scenes that make you jump are not born out of the formulaic sequence of complete silence followed by a loud bang. For instance, we are given somewhat of a history lesson and informed the dead at one point wore small ankle bells to differentiate between those who have passed and those simply unconscious. Cue Jane Doe toying with her victims and audience as darkness descends and stored away corpses in fridges conveniently fall out.
As expected both Austin and Tommy flee to a neighbouring room in terror. Both cower away and all you can hear is the faint jingle of a bell – the very same one which belonged to one of the corpses. We are toyed with by Ovredal where our reactions are genuine and a direct consequence of the events unfolding. Brian Cox is loveable and keeps the paranormal scenes almost grounded even the ridiculous ones with one such scene featuring Jane Doe being set alight but for the flames to evaporate and our antagonist unscathed.
The very concept of the ‘dead’ wreaking havoc on the living is a tired one but plays out well with how the story unfolds with one of the most devastating and tense hallucinations culminating in an ending grounded in reality. It is without a doubt The Autopsy of Jane Doe exceeds in scares and creates a story of intrigue that more importantly features fully realised, three dimensional, characters we genuinely care for.