Wednesday, December 07, 2016

“The Autopsy Of Jane Doe”– Movie Review



This week, I attended a Sneak Preview at The Film Society Of Lincoln Center for the new horror movie, “The Autopsy Of Jane Doe”, directed by André Øvredal and starring Brian Cox. 


When father and son coroners must perform an autopsy on a mysterious woman, will they be able to determine both the cause of her death and her identity?


The police in a small Virginia town have quite a bit on their hands:  recently, an entire family was massacred in their own home and there are few clues as to how it happened or who committed the crime.  Amid this gruesome tableau, their most interesting discovery is in the basement where they discover the nude body of a young woman buried in a shallow grave beneath the house.  Although she cannot be identified, they do know that she was not a member of the family that was murdered; members of that family have been known to locals for decades. 

That night, they deliver this young woman’s corpse – which is referred to as “Jane Doe” since she cannot be identified – to The Tilden Morgue and Crematorium, where Tommy (Cox) and his son Austin (Emile Hirsch) serve as coroners.  They are instructed to perform an autopsy on the body and provide the authorities with as much information as possible first thing the next morning – even if they have to stay up all night in order to complete their examination.  The father and son immediately get to work and find unusual and deeply troubling information upon initial inspection.        

As the two delve more deeply into their work, things become rather suspicious and unnerving; the closer Tommy and Austin get to finding the truth, the more they are aware that their lives may be endangered.  When outrageous events unfold, it eventually becomes evident that this young woman’s corpse may not be entirely what they thought it was – that she may in fact still be alive somehow and trying to interfere with their autopsy.  Upon trying to escape from their underground offices, they find themselves trapped when the electricity goes out and their back-up generator isn’t powerful enough to move the elevator.  Without any way to flee, can they survive the various threats when under relentless attack by paranormal forces?  


At times, “The Autopsy Of Jane Doe” seems to cross genres being not only a horror story, but also a story about the supernatural as well.  In its biblical references to Leviticus 20:27 and allusions to The 17th Century Salem Witch Trials, it contains potentially subversive hints regarding the alleged worthiness of religious beliefs.  Just as the classic Arthur Miller play “The Crucible” is seen as an allegory to the rampant McCarthyism of the 1950’s, so may “Jane Doe” with its similar Witch Trials plot points be compared to the paranoia of today’s pervasive Islamophobia that partially helped to elect Donald Trump. 

But what “The Autopsy Of Jane Doe” mostly appears to be about is forgiveness – specifically, forgiveness of family members who themselves may ultimately be forced to admit to their own imperfections.  Redemption, it seems to suggest, may only be possible once we recognize and acknowledge our human frailties.  Although Tommy and Austin seem to be close as father and son, there is an overriding feeling of tension between them; on some level, Austin blames his father for the suicide of his mother just two years ago.  Neither has yet gotten over her death, and just as Austin thinks his father is somewhat guilty of enabling it, so Tommy feels partially responsible as well.

Following the screening, there was a brief question and answer session with the two stars, Brian Cox and Emile Hirsch, and director André Øvredal.   Øvredal said that while actress Olwen Kelly played Jane Doe, a dummy was also used to substitute for her in certain scenes; he estimated that Kelly was before the camera 80% of the time while the dummy was in only about 20% of the shots.  Cox also marveled at Kelly’s performance throughout the shoot; while it may be true she didn’t have much dialog to memorize, he remarked she was able to perfect a shallow breathing technique so subtle it could not be picked up on camera.  Hirsch agreed that Kelly’s job was particularly difficult – not only was she nude all of the time, she had to lie still on a cold marble slab during most of her scenes.   

The Autopsy of Jane Doe (2016) on IMDb

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