With 2010’s Trollhunter, André Ørvedal announced himself as a filmmaker with an eye for the spectacular, and demonstrated the potential that exists in the oft-maligned found footage format. His docu-style monster movie remains a high watermark for the genre and was witty, stylish, as well as being genuinely scary. It’s a shame then for both Ørvedal and us that it has taken six years for a follow-up feature, but The Autopsy Of Jane Doe has definitely been worth the wait.
Working from a tightly woven script by Ian Goldberg and Richard Naing, Ørvedal has constructed a delicately balanced thriller as far removed from the surreal excesses of Trollhunter as possible. Here, restraint is the order of the day as father and son morticians Tommy (Brian Cox) and Austin (Emile Hirsch) try to discover the history of a mysterious female corpse.
Little really happens for much of the running time, but the subtle complexities in the pair’s relationship and the slowly revealed clues that accompany the cringe-inducing autopsy make for an intriguing watch. You’re drawn into the strands of the mystery as, little by little, the bizarreness of the situation becomes apparent, and even then, you still question the conclusions being drawn. Strange phenomena begin to occur in the basement mortuary, Tommy and Austin begin to experience inexplicable visions, and the events begin to build toward an unexpected conclusion.
It is here, in the final act, that the film begins to lose its way somewhat, as the need to provide an apt supernatural finale overwhelms previous delicacy. More akin to a haunted house movie than a chilling thriller, Ørvedal struggles slightly to fulfil the requirements for an increased level of action, and the script resorts to more familiar horror tropes rather than continuing to pursue the promise that sets the first two thirds apart.
As much as The Autopsy Of Jane Doe flirts with familiarity in its final scenes, this is still a grimly interesting film based around the dark intent of originality. The mystery at its heart is both surprising and satisfying in its reveal, and the performances compliment an impressively conceived script and plot – Hollywood-esque finale aside – with conviction and belief.
Ørvedal has once again shown he is a filmmaker who can create realism from fantastical situations, and balance both thriller and horror elements. Let’s hope his next feature comes along a little sooner.
THE AUTOPSY OF JANE DOE / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR: ANDRÉ ØRVEDAL / SCREENPLAY: IAN GOLDBERG, RICHARD NAING / STARRING: EMILE HIRSCH, BRIAN COX, OLWEN KELLY / RELEASE DATE: 26TH JUNE