André Øvredal burst onto the scene with the irresistibly enjoyable Trollhunter in 2010, a mockumentary road trip humorously poking around under Norway’s less-travelled bridges and its folklore. For his follow-up he’s once again giving a novel twist to recognisable horror genre fare and whilst the high-concept of The Autopsy of Jane Doe is nothing like as inventive as his debut, it’s based on the neat idea of leaving the camera with the coroners when it would usually follow the detective out of the door.
Brian Cox and Emile Hirsch play the father-and-son team charged with determining the cause of death for the body of an unidentified young woman found half-buried at the scene of a brutal and bloody multiple homicide. The clock is ticking and they have to complete the autopsy tonight but some perplexing symptoms suggest there’s more to this cadaver’s story than initially meets the eye. “I’m saying look before you leap,” says Tommy (Cox) to Austen (Hirsch), warning him again of jumping to conclusions, especially in their line of work where the deeper you dig the more of the story you uncover. It would appear that the same may be true for Tommy and Austen’s relationship which seems to have been held in stasis since the death of Austen’s mother several years earlier. Austen’s desire to be a coroner seems to be waning but he’s trapped by a father who doesn’t seem ready to let him go.
Cox and Hirsch are both very watchable in the role and their own fascination as they begin peeling back the layers – both literally and figuratively – of the mystery is infectious. It’s like a particularly creepy episode of Silent Witness as a storm begins to rage outside and the two are confined to their subterranean workplace with a corpse that defies expectation. Øvredal handles the building tension well with a few quietly unnerving moments and a jump scare or two before events begin to take a turn for the more supernatural and, at the same time, more generic.
Ian B. Goldberg and Richard Naing’s screenplay isn’t quite sure where to go after a solid opening and plumps for rote horror conventions and obvious revelations. It’s more than enough to allow Øvredal to indulge in some heart-thumping tension and a sequence in which invisible assailants attack Tommy in a cloud of smoke from the incinerator is brutal, but it lacks bite. The two stars stay on their game but their relationship is largely sidetracked in favour of fending off ghouls. The creepiness does dissipate quite quickly but The Autopsy of Jane Doe remains good genre fun – if little more.
Ben Nicholson | @BRNicholson