Events commence in a derelict house one evening, where local police have been called to the scene of a homicide. While surveying the basement, they happen across a naked female corpse half-buried there. Perplexed by the corpse's well-preserved state, Sheriff Burke (Michael McElhatton) escorts the body to the nearby morgue.
Upon arrival, he finds elderly coroner Tommy (Brian Cox) and his trainee son Austin (Emile Hirsch) about to wrap up for the evening. Burke implores Tommy to stay on, insisting that he needs a cause of death for the unidentified corpse - known only as Jane Doe (portrayed with steely determination by Olwen Kelly) - before the morning.
Initially, Austin plans to take his girlfriend Emma (Ophelia Lovibond) on a date, but has a last-minute crisis of conscience and delays her for a few hours, agreeing to stay and help his dad for a while first.
There's a short passage of time where the autopsy appears to be going without too many hitches. But, even from an early juncture, there are strange things afoot: lights begin flickering, morgue doors open and slam shut of their own accord, Tommy's old-fashioned radio starts switching channels randomly, and so on.
Unperturbed, the father-and-son team continue with their investigations, recording their findings and musings as they proceed. The corpse's unfeasibly small waist is put down to it most likely having worn a corset in life; her tongue appears to have been ritualistically removed. For a while, Austin's greatest concern is that he's secretly planning on leaving town with Emma, in search of a new life.
Naturally, events soon go from bad to worse. Upon beginning their internal examination, Tommy and Austin discover some baffling evidence which contradicts their subject's immaculately preserved state. As lights around begin to explode and the ringing of a bell signifies the possibility of the living dead being in their midst, the coroners must solve the mystery of Jane Doe's demise if they are to survive the night... From Andre Ovredal, the Norwegian director of superior found-footage hit TROLL HUNTER, THE AUTOPSY OF JANE DOE is one of the most interesting horror flicks in some time.
Firstly, Richard Naing and Ian Goldberg's screenplay is refreshingly literate. Themes of faith, loyalty, family, tradition and superstition are all skilfully woven into the action. The whole thing is clearly well-researched in its central theme (no spoilers) and well-observed when it comes to the more procedural details. Their characters are agreeably fleshed-out, benefitting further from finely nuanced performances from Cox and Hirsch: there's a real chemistry to be felt between them.
Ovredal knows how to ramp up tension, and builds the spooky atmosphere expertly. He's also savvy to the requirements of gorehounds and, sure enough, there's plenty of the red stuff in evidence later into proceedings. The FX work - a mix of old-school prosthetics and convincing digital gimmickry - are extremely effective.
Matt Gant's production design is modest but persuasive. Roman Osin's photography fuels proceedings with a necessarily cool, austere aesthetic. In fact, the whole thing is only marred by a somewhat weak final act. Even so, JANE DOE emerges as one of the more original and memorable genre offerings of late.
THE AUTOPSY OF JANE DOE is being brought to UK DVD and blu-ray by Lions Gate Home Entertainment. We were sent a copy of the blu-ray to review.
The film is presented uncut - 86 minutes and 37 seconds in length - and in its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio. Housed as a respectably-sized MPEG4-AVC file, the 1080p presentation here is pretty spectacular. Sharp images, clearly defined detail, a keen sense of persuasive filmic depth: there's no real room for complaint. Colours are bold and true; blacks are solid; noise is absent; skin tones are accurate at all times.
English audio comes in a robust surround DTS-HD Master mix. It is, naturally, excellent: intelligently channelled, joltingly loud in all the right places, clean and quiet where it needs to be. Dialogue, music and sound design are evenly balanced for maximum clarity throughout.
The disc opens to an animated main menu page. Pop-up menus include a scene selection option affording access to the film via 12 chapters.
We get one bonus feature. This is a 5-minute chat with Ovredal, conducted by FrightFest's Alan Jones. Ovredal has a great command of the English language and is easily understandable at all times. More importantly, he's a friendly, engaging interviewee as he speaks of how a viewing of THE CONJURING inspired him to look for what he considered to be a genuinely scary script.
A commentary track, or interviews with the lead actors, would've been nice. But, alas, no: we have to make do with the aforementioned 5 minutes of fun.
Still, JANE DOE looks and sounds great on Lions Gate's blu-ray disc.
Also available on DVD.
Review by Stuart Willis
|Released by Lions Gate Home Entertainment|