Brian Cox and Emile Hirsch star in this twisty, gross-out thriller.
As if the title isn’t enough of a red flag, it might be a good idea to look elsewhere for your weekend plans if you’re the squeamish type. Otherwise, you could do a lot worse than this effective little chiller from the director of the 2010 Norwegian cult cheapie, Trollhunter. Actually, let me clarify, the first half is effective. The second is just kind of silly. Supporting the theory that any movie can be made four times better with the addition of Brian Cox, The Autopsy of Jane Doe is essentially a 90-minute episode of Jack Klugman’s late-’70s TV show Quincy, M.E. with more graphic gore, goo, and guts.
Set in Grantham, Virginia, the film opens with a bunch of stumped cops stumbling around a bloody crime scene in an old house. In the basement, seemingly unrelated to the dead bodies upstairs, is the half-buried corpse of an unidentified naked young woman (i.e., Jane Doe). She doesn’t have a scratch on her. How did she get here, and how did she die? The sheriff brings her to the local coroner, Tommy Tilden (Cox), who proceeds to do an autopsy in the South’s creepiest morgue with the help of his assistant, who also happens to be his son, Austin (Emile Hirsch). These two are a pretty unflappable pair. In fact, when we first meet Cox’s character, he’s cutting into the cadaver of a guy whose body is charred to a briquette. Then, he sews it up and steps outside for a smoke. That’s one cool customer.
When Jane Doe is brought in, a storm begins rolling in (of course, it does), so the fluorescent lights flicker on and off in a conveniently atmospheric way. Immediately, the Tildens notice some strange things about the body on their steel table. Her eyes are a milky grey color, her tongue is severed, and a fly comes crawling out of her bloody nostril. Austin starts to get a little spooked, but not pops. Not yet, at least.
The first half of the movie is sort of riveting, as the medical examiners go through the steps of their routine, trying to determine a cause of death and put the mysteriously eerie puzzle pieces together. A lot of this has to do with Cox, who with his craggy face and lyrical burr can make any situation compelling. Especially when he busts out the rib cutters and takes to poor Jane Doe like a gardener battling a stubborn hedge. Her corpse is trying to tell them a story, but what is it?
Somewhere around the 45-minute mark, the movie takes a turn—and that turn is pretty goofy. I won’t say how it goes off course, but you get the feeling that Cox and Hirsch might have said “Yes” to the project without quite finishing the script. Still, that strong front end is enough to make The Autopsy of Jane Doe worth checking out. Just make sure you stay away from the Gummy Worms at the concession stand. B–