Director: André Øvredal
Screenplay: Ian Goldberg, Richard Naing
Starring: Emile Hirsch, Brian Cox, Olwen Catherine Kelly
Runtime: 86 Minutes
It’s been a while since we last heard anything from Norwegian director André Øvredal, known to many as the director of the fantastically creative and funny Nordic hit Trollhunter. The Autopsy of Jane Doe sees his return to the director’s chair, with a remarkably tight and dark film staged mostly within a single location.
The premise is very simple; Emile Hirsch and Brian Cox play father-son pathologists Austin and Tommy Tilden, who one night are bought the corpse of an unknown young woman only referred to as Jane Doe and expected to present their results as soon as possible. But as soon as the autopsy is underway, things begin to spiral out of control in a way that is genuinely unsettling to depict in such a morbid yet sterile environment.
The difficulty of explaining the remainder of the film is that so much of its plot revolves around the gradual peeling back of the layers (literally) of this woman’s increasingly horrifying story and the connotations of implied and explicit violence within her history. But let’s just say that Øvredal’s previous fascination with the contemporary workings of old fables has carried over to some degree, but within its own contextual setting and handled with a sly and knowing hand.
The much of the first half focuses on the deductions to be made of the corpse through the methodical procedure of the practice, as these two professionals trained to live and work in the presence of the dead begin to realise that there is something going on that is much worse than they’d initially imagined.
For the most part, the film is a two-hander between Cox and Hirsch who are magnetic presences with a weight of history and emotional baggage that they are both sharing and privately handling. But the mesmeric Olwen Kelly as the corpse they are dissecting is unfathomably restrained and oddly stunning in her performance, considering she spends her screen time partially nude and layered in frightfully convincing prosthetics and makeup without a single movement.
Roman Osin’s cinematography is intensely chilly and controlled, which with Øvredal’s direction really adds to the foreboding tension that grows in tandem with the Tilden’s paranoia regarding their discoveries. The film dips into more conventional genre terrain as it continues toward its climax with a need to over-explain itself, but times its scares and reveals with just the right momentum and force to make it satisfying as a single genre experience. Øvredal is indeed the talent that he promised he could be.