The Autopsy of Jane Doe plays with an interesting, imaginative and altogether intelligent concept. If the film was actually aware of this fact, we’d have a nice little picture on our hands. As it is, André Øvredal’s follow-up to his frankly excellent 2010 comedy-horror Trollhunter, is a film with bags of potential which unfortunately is only fleetingly realised.
The film opens with a competently crafted, well-paced and incredibly engrossing first 45 minutes. As father and son morticians Tommy and Austin, played competently enough by Brian Cox and Emile Hirsch, slowly unravel the disturbing history of the eponymous Jane Doe by way of medical examination in the claustrophobic confines of their subterranean surgery, the effects, to put it bluntly, are goddamn terrifying. Øvredal crafts an atmosphere which indulges in a lavishly Gothic aesthetic whilst retaining enough real-world applicability to create a palpable sense of dread. Unfortunately, those involved either lost their bottle or just got plain lazy as, in a jarring and downright confusing narratorial shift, the majority of the rest of the film plays out as a run-of-the-mill survival horror you’ve lamentably seen a thousand times before.
Firstly, the character’s journey from bewilderment to realisation of supernatural influences, to then acceptance of those supernatural influences is far too quick to come across anything remotely resembling organic. Tommy, an experienced and stoic man of science up until this point, goes from zero to ‘let’s douse the body in gasoline and exorcise it in fire’ in two minutes flat. Past that, the film descends deeper and deeper into ridiculous supernatural manipulation and predictable jump-scare tactics.
It’s a crying shame because the first half, objectively judged as a slice of horror cinema, barely puts a foot wrong. In this sense, one can’t help but think that if Øvredal had a bit of confidence in his vision, we could have had something very special here. The film ends on strong footing with an imaginatively realised and genuinely unsettling last fifteen minutes or so which saves the film from the proverbial celluloid trash heap. However, unfortunately, it is all rather too little too late and the film remains an altogether average piece of horror cinema which, frustratingly, could have been much more.