I have to admit that I’ve watched so many horror films that I’m sometimes tempted to get a little bit jaded about them.
Don’t get me wrong. I love the genre. I love watching horror movies. I love analyzing horror movies. I love writing about horror movies. It’s just that, after you’ve watched a few hundred of them, it becomes easier to pick up on all the little tricks. For instance, I now know not to worry whenever anyone hears a strange sound in the kitchen because it’s inevitably just going to be a cat in a cabinet. Instead, it’s only after the cat has run by and caused everyone to jump that you have to start worrying about something terrible to happen. I also know that there’s a good chance that the first chase scene is going to turn out to be an elaborate nightmare. As such, I sometimes I get cynical about whether or not I can really be frightened anymore.
But then I watch something like The Autopsy of Jane Doe.
I watched The Autopsy of Jane Doe back in Decemeber. It was two in the morning. I was alone in the house. It was raining outside. I was having trouble sleeping so, of course, I decided why not sit in the dark in my underwear and watch a horror movie? At the time, it didn’t occur to me that I was essentially putting myself in a classic horror movie situation. It was only later, when I was lying in bed with all the lights on and freaking out about every little noise that I heard that I realized my mistake.
The Autopsy of Jane Doe takes place in a morgue in a small town. The body of a woman has been brought in. It is believed that she died in a house fire but there are no signs of trauma on her body. Her finger prints are not on record. No one knows who she is. Over the course of the night, coroner Tommy Tilden (Brian Cox) and his son, Austin (Emile Hirsch), examine the body. With each incision, the mystery of Jane Doe’s identity deepens. The inside of her body is as damaged as the outside is perfect.
As the night continues, strange things start to happen inside the morgue. It’s small things at first. Strange sounds are heard. Austin thinks that he sees something out of the corner of his eye. A storm starts to rage outside. Austin says that they should stop the autopsy but Tommy says that they have to finish what they’ve started…
And things only escalate from there.
The Autopsy of Jane Doe sneaks up on you. It starts out as a collection of small scares and subtle hints that all is not right. At first, you’re kind of like, “Yeah, it’s weird noises and shadows in the corner. It’s a horror movie. Of course, that’s going on…” And then suddenly, about halfway through the film, you realize that you’re totally tense. All of those small scares have added up, leaving you wondering when the big scares are going to start. And when those big scares do arrive, they deliver. By confining the movie to one location, director André Øvredal creates a palpable atmosphere of claustrophobia and impending doom. It helps that Brian Cox is one of those older, paternal actors who you always expect to be in control of things so seeing him in a situation where he has no control carries an unexpectedly strong emotional impact.
If you doubt the power of horror, The Autopsy of Jane Doe will make you a believer.