4 April 2017

The Autopsy of Jane Doe review

The glut of great horror films we've had over the last few years have made it easy to forget, but horror is tricky. No other genre relies so heavily on all the individual pieces working together in harmony - if the audience aren't engaged or if suspension of disbelief is broken for even a second then the entire thing falls apart, sucking all the tension out of the film in one fell swoop. Horror is a careful tightrope walk that results in something wonderful when done properly - but one foot out of place at any point and regardless of how well things have been going until then, it's game over.

Unfortunately, The Autopsy of Jane Doe is a great example of that principle. Set in a private morgue, we follow a father-son coroner team as they perform an autopsy on the titular Jane Doe, whose body was found at the site of a grisly homicide without a single mark on it. As they learn more about the mysterious corpse in front of them, the tension rises as the atmosphere builds - but The Autopsy of Jane Doe fails to sell a turn of events about halfway through, meaning that despite some decent jump scares and a very creepy atmosphere, the finale simply doesn't work.

And that's a real shame, because the first half of The Autopsy of Jane Doe capitalises on the film's very original premise in a big way. Seeing our two main characters learn more about Jane Doe as they carve her up is naturally interesting anyway, but even before things get tangibly scary further down the line, the sterile, alien nature of both the morgue and Jane Doe herself draws the audience in with ease. Director André Øvredal clearly knows how to imbue a scene with atmosphere, and that talent is used to its full extent here, making every second of the invasive procedure feel like a violation, something that shouldn't be happening - even before we know that something isn't quite right here, we feel it in spite of a lack of obvious stimuli, and that's a skill that shouldn't go unappreciated.

Unfortunately this sense of subtlety doesn't last, and as The Autopsy of Jane Doe builds towards its conclusion it gets broader, less refined and frustratingly generic. As with a great many otherwise interesting horror films, The Autopsy of Jane Doe's conclusion isn't worthy of its set up, and not just in the sense that the central reveal is an unsatisfying one - as we shift gears from suspense to action, the film also loses a lot of the craft that was holding it together in the first place. A virtually incomprehensible sequence set in a smoke-filled hallway is particularly bad, but almost everything taking place after our main characters clock that something isn't right is in truth pretty poor - most of the frightening stuff here is no better than things you're likely to see in a YouTube horror short, and I say that as an avowed scaredy cat.

Still, it's not as if this is the first horror film to suffer from a disappointing finale, and in my eyes The Autopsy of Jane Doe does enough right upfront to forgive a clumsy back half. With a seemingly very limited release here in the UK (just one showing at my local multiplex!), it's unlikely that you'll be able to see this before it hits home video and various streaming services - but once it does, there are worse things you could do than spend a night in watching a flawed yet very original and interesting horror.

3 stars

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