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The Autopsy of Jane Doe, directed by André Øvredal (Troll Hunter) is a horror movie riddled with cheap jump scares and overused tropes that all but bury the few interesting ideas and genuinely unnerving moments.
Austin (Brian Cox) and Tommy Tilden (Emile Hirsch) are father-and-son coroners that are asked by the police to examine a corpse with no apparent cause of death found in a shallow grave. The investigation quickly takes a turn for the bizarre and disturbing, as the body seems to be hiding some terrible secrets. It’s not long before the Tildens start to suspect something supernatural is afoot.
Early on, The Autopsy of Jane Does plays out like a disturbing and extremely graphic murder mystery, with the father-and-son duo slowly trying to piece together what happened to the mysterious unnamed woman. The introduction of the supernatural element to the story immediately and noticeably offsets the suspense of those early scenes and makes the body horror inherently less disturbing.
Imagine if the movie Se7en had a supernatural twist. Wouldn’t that have lessened its impact severely? After all, much of Se7en’s extremely disturbing narrative is as unsettling as it is, because it’s the result of one human being torturing and mutilating another. The extremes of human cruelty are horrifying. Supernatural horror can be extremely effective as well, but the way it’s used in The Autopsy of Jane Doe serves mainly to undermine the only interesting bits in it.
The dead body is infinitely less interesting and grotesque once you realize something supernatural is responsible for its assortment of impossible injuries and without that, The Autopsy of Jane Doe is mainly a series of extremely predictable jump scares that fall flat.
Jump scares are effective if used sparingly and to offset moments of sustained tension and silence. The Autopsy of Jane Doe, like so many bad horror movies, will throw jump scares at you for the flimsiest of reasons, almost as if its afraid you will be bored if nothing overtly scary happens for too long, or if there was a quota to be filled. A sudden onset of silence will be broken by a very loud noise and something popping up on the screen – rinse and repeat.
What other overused horror tropes can we check off the list? Sudden onslaught of exposition by a character that conveniently and nonsensically knows all the answers? Brian Cox has you covered. Relying on retro tunes to establish a creepy tone, even though it actually doesn’t make sense given what we are given as an explanation? Sure. A final scene that suggests the evil is still at large, leaving the door open for a sequel? Yep.
It’s textbook bad horror. Every once in a while, a genuinely creepy moment or idea might sneak its way on to the screen, but the novelty has no room to breathe. On a technical level, The Autopsy of Jane Doe is well made and easy enough to follow. The production has a level of polish that puts it a cut above a lot of the cheaply made, incomprehensible horror movies of the last few years. Overall though, it’s disappointing and dull.