* spoilers *
The police uncover a bizarre crime scene where everyone in the house has died in a violent way and seemed to be trying to escape in addition to the dead body found half buried in the ground. The Jane Doe is taken to a local funeral home to find out where she came from. Tommy is a coroner working to train his son Austin in the trade. Together, they try to figure out how Jane Doe died with each stage of the autopsy exposing stranger and stranger injuries and artifacts. When an unexpected storm traps them in the underground lab, Jane might not be as helpless as she seems.
I first watched The Autopsy of Jane Doe with no expectations and it blew me away. The first half of the movie is completely unique and I had no idea where it was going. Tommy and Austin go through the thorough process of an autopsy from examining each part, marking down injuries and oddities, and taking samples. Tommy's style is very traditional, so he uses an old camcorder, a chalk board, reference books, a polaroid camera, and bells attached to the corpse's ankles. Through the entire procedure, both men are completely professional and treat her body as a typical part of their job and never even remark on her beauty or form beyond their scientific examination. Both seem like they've been doing this for years and have an easy routine that doesn't end where they expected. As they go deeper into the autopsy, things get more and more odd. Her exterior is perfect, but her body hides torturous injuries such as shattered wrists and ankles, her tongue cut out, burned lungs, and deep vaginal cuts. The situation starts out a little odd. progresses to sad when they think she's a victim of sex trafficking, and ends of up at bizarre and frightening.
I immediately liked Tommy and Austin. Their banter feels completely natural as well as the tension when touching upon long standing disagreements. I especially admire their dedication to doing thorough, top notch work although Tommy stops there while Austin wants to figure out more about Jane Doe's situation. Their shared history is shown in small, natural glimpses throughout the film. When Stanley the cat is found mutilated in an air duct, Tommy mercifully kills him, wraps him in scrubs, and incinerates him. This scene could easily be seen as cruel, but the emotion is all over Brian Cox's face. An offputting act is turned into one of love and sorrow. The cat was his last connection to his late wife, whose suicide he partially blames himself for. Tommy and Austin are stuck in time because of this death. Tommy keeps everything as it was, his business literally frozen, and keeps his true feelings buried. Austin doesn't want to inherit his father's business, but goes through the motions anyway while he longs to go to college and pursue something else. Both of these men are so relatable and try to protect each other every step of the way. It's hard not to really care about this father and son as things go off the rails.
The second half of the film is a little more typical and falls into home invasion and supernatural tropes, but I was already to invested and clueless as to where it was going that it didn't really matter. The first indication of something not right is an eerie but catchy song that comes on the radio called Let the Sun Shine In. The lyrics warn of letting the devil in and something simply seems off with it. The radio weather announcers first describe beautiful weather, then a huge storm coming in, and finally directly warning that they don't want to get caught in it. Then things go off the deep end. Even though it's more typically horror, the film is still restrained, focusing more on tension and atmosphere over gore or jump scares. The scary moments are in bells tinkling softly and quiet moments of confusion with a few contrasting moments. These men are woefully outmatched against a supernatural foe they know next to nothing about.
Jane Doe herself is a fascinating character who moves very little and lays silent for the entire film. She is portrayed by Olwen Kelly, who emotes so well through this static role. A film where an actress lays naked for the whole film could have been very exploitative or crass, but this is quite the opposite. The way she is filmed and treated by the characters is full of respect and professionalism. During the first half of the film, her face gives a melancholy air as we process the horror of this tortured young woman. As the film goes on, the shape of her eyes and mouth as well as the tilt of her head change her demeanor drastically even though she doesn't really move. As her power is shown in the second half of the film, her face appears more shrewd and sinister. Tommy hypothesizes that she was a normal woman that was tortured and turned into a witch as a result. Even though it comes a little out of nowhere, I love this idea that the so called pious people creating a witch out of their own evil actions.
The Autopsy of Jane Doe blew my mind when I watched it the first time. No matter how many times I watch, the eerie and tense atmosphere makes me want to hide behind something. It's simply well crafted all around with a few small flaws here and there. Jane Doe is so overpowered and able to manipulate every one of her victim's senses like the mirror in Oculus. Like that film, the people didn't have very much of a chance to survive. All of the performances are excellent and I believe their relationships right away, allowing the plot to move forward more quickly than usual. I would love to see more from all involved. This film is simply a work of art.