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Review: The Autopsy of Jane Doe – “Masterful, morbid, and mercilessly nauseating”

The Autopsy of Jane Doe’ is directed by André Øvredal (‘Troll Hunter’), and written by Ian Goldberg (‘Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles’) and Richard Naing (‘Dead of Summer’). The film stars Emile Hirsch (‘Into The Wild’), Brian Cox (‘Manhunter’) and Ophelia Lovibond (‘Guardians of the Galaxy’).

Tommy (Cox) and Austin (Hirsch) Tilden are father and son morticians. They live in a small Virginia town, so when a murder is committed they also perform autopsies for the Sheriff. One stormy night, a mysterious unidentified “Jane Doe” corpse is brought in. An investigation into a house full of bizarre murders has led the police to finding Jane half buried in the basement, and Sheriff Burke (Michael McElhatton – ‘Game of Thrones’) needs answers fast.

As the weather worsens and the power fluctuates, Tommy and Austin delve deeper and deeper under the corpse’s skin looking for answers. What they find makes little sense and if true is terrifying. As Jane’s story begins to come together the men become trapped in their basement morgue, and its stone-cold residents’ feet begin to get itchy…

The first act of ‘The Autopsy of Jane Doe’ is masterful, morbid, and mercilessly nauseating. The post-mortem process provides the back stories of the characters, as well as plenty of stomach stirring practical gore effects. Øvredal then steers the middle section towards set pieces that are unsettling: scary, reality-bending nightmares that you are never quite sure are actually happening or some kind of group hallucination manifesting from a combination of the body, mystery, horror and entrapment.

This period ends by playing itself though, with a “surprise” that has been so obviously signposted that it feels like a double bluff. But is unfortunately exactly what you knew would happen as soon as a certain line of dialogue was spoken does happen – whiffing a promising character and a lot of tension and confidence in where the finale is headed.

A hair straightening shock as the film enters the final innings will catch you off-balance, but once this reveal has passed things get far too out of hand far too fast. The film goes too crazy too quickly, and the startlingly abrupt gear change is totally spell-breaking. Elsewhere, Cox’s character’s beliefs and motivations flip flop absurdly fast, spoiling a thus far nuanced and fun exhibition.

Despite pacing problems, and an obvious twist, ‘The Autopsy of Jane Doe’ is a gruesome, ghastly and ghostly what-the-heck machine.

The Autopsy of Jane Doe is released in the UK on the 31st of March.

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