The Autopsy of Jane Doe was a 2016 horror film, so I am a little late to the party. Once it hit Netflix, I added it to my to watch list but kept putting it off. I finally sat down to watch it, and I have to say I am disappointed it took me so long. I also hadn’t realized that it was by the director/writer of Trollhunter which I think is a supremely underrated film.
The movie starts with cops pouring over a brutal homicide scene, only to find a Jane Doe buried in the basement. It seems unlikely to be connected with the people who died in the home, so it baffles the police. The sheriff brings the body to the small town coroner, run by Tommy and his son Austin, saying that he needs them to rush the autopsy so he can attempt to explain why the body was found in the home. As they begin to work on the woman what they discover is both chilling and confusing. Despite no outer signs of trauma, the woman has clearly been tortured. Not only that but strange things start happening in the office, slowly getting more terrifying.
The Autopsy of Jane Doe is a perfect of example of doing so much with so little. It is not merely the small budget, which it did have a relatively small one, but the entire movie. It has very little in the way of cast, is set almost entirely in the morgue, and relies on the imagination of the audience rather than in your face horror. This movie could be seen as small, but it’s not, it is the perfect example of using horror in clever ways without throwing too much at the audience.
Being along with Tommy and Austin for the ride is a truly terrifying experience. There is something about the idea of where they are, and the fact that the dead might not be dead, that gets to most people, and the movie capitalizes on that. It knows the setting is scary, it recognizes the idea is creepy, it also knows to let it speak for itself.
It doesn’t need hordes of undead and jump scares, it just needs the audience trapped in a place they likely don’t want to be anyway, with some disturbing and uncomfortable things happening around them.
Working in those confines it does bring a few jump scares, and a decent amount of gore (I mean it is about an autopsy), but it primarily focuses on suspense and a feeling of unease. Small things happen, but they all start to feel larger because of the setting and the idea of the movie, so by the time the more significant things start to unfold we are already unnerved and easy to push. This is great, this is horror done right.
Aside from the general idea the movie also uses sound design effectively. I don’t want to give too much away, but there are some chilling noises that once you learn to associate will instantly get a reaction from you later in the movie. These moments are added in masterfully and create tension in the best possible way.
The movie is also not afraid to embrace darkness with the lighting. I have discussed before (notably with Silent Hill) about horror movies that get too caught up in showing everything off and being unwilling to embrace the darkness. The Autopsy of Jane Doe is not entirely shrouded in darkness, but it’s not afraid to use it to its advantage. It’s also rarely “bright”.
It is also well written. Tommy and Austin have an interesting back and forth and are both solid characters. Tommy stands out more than Austin, but not to the extent that you find either to be throwaways. What has happened to Jane Doe will keep some guessing and might be slightly easier to figure out for others. It is still compelling to watch them work it out while also facing off with the horrors around them. If I had to complain I would say the pacing could use a bit of work. It seems to jump in degrees. Slow, medium, fast, with little build up in between just more of bam it’s kicked up a bit. There is also little in the way of explanation for what is happening. Tommy and Austin sort of stumble upon it give a brief explanation and move on. This isn’t exactly a deal breaker as I don’t think much more is actually needed to really sell the experience just something I noted. In the end, it’s still a good ride though.
So bottom line? I would recommend this movie to basically any genre fan. It’s well done, with some tense horror, and overall a solid entry. I wouldn’t exactly put it at the top of my list of best horror movies of all time, but it would be high on the list of best modern horror flicks, and on the list of overall. It’s just a well-done movie, and it honestly got to me. I was impressed with the movie and genuinely creeped out and scared which is exactly what I want when watching a horror flick. It also makes me infinitely more excited about the upcoming Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark by the same director.