Wednesday, 31 August 2016

THE AUTOPSY OF JANE DOE - Review By Greg Klymkiw - TIFF 2016 - Slicing and Dicing in the Morgue at TIFF's legendary Midnight Madness series and this Christmas in movie theatres from Raven Banner and IFC Midnight.

Father-son coroners discover that a little something
has been removed "non-surgically, crudely"
from the comely maw of Jane Doe.

The Autopsy of Jane Doe (2016) ****
Dir. André Øvredal
Scr. Ian Goldberg, Richard Naing
Starring: Brian Cox, Emile Hirsch, Ophelia Lovibond, Olwen Kelly

Review By Greg Klymkiw

Tommy Tilden (Brian Cox) and his son Austin (Emile Hirsch) deal in meat - dead meat, that is. Dad is a coroner and his son a skilled autopsy assistant. No corpse is too raw, decimated, burned and butchered for these men to slice and dice with skilled, stylish authority, often with a local FM radio station blaring rock n' roll amidst folksy chat and weather reports.

One especially dark night brings in the remains of a Jane Doe (Olwen Kelly), so named in the parlance of all matters dead as she has no identification, and weirdly, her body was discovered in the basement of a mysterious crime scene and even stranger still, appears unrelated to the grisly events within the home it's been extricated from.

The first order of business is an external examination. The beautiful young corpse has no outside signs of trauma, but closer inspection reveals internal shattering of the wrists and ankles, an uncommonly tiny waist (as if it had been corseted) and most alarmingly, within her pretty maw, the tongue has been sliced out - not surgically, but violently.

"I've seen something like this before," offers the wise, old Tommy. This is a line that comes out of his mouth like a veritable mantra. It's when he starts to say, "I've never seen anything like this before," that things get even creepier. (And believe me, the movie is plenty creepy from the get-go.)

Once the scalpels come out (and my favourite, the rib crackers), father and son discover a wealth of sickening items (yes, ITEMS!!!) and extremely distressing indignities within poor Jane Doe. When the radio keeps announcing an impending storm, flooding and power outages, there's plenty to add to the characters' (and audience's) increasingly queasy stomachs. When the radio begins to repeatedly blare out a cheesy song with the lyrics "open up your heart and let the sun shine in", we all know we're in for trouble.

Once the scalpels come out, father and son
discover a wealth of internal indignities.
When the movie forces us to go apoplectic is when we hear a bell tinkling. Tommy is an old school coroner, you see, and as such, affixes the big toe of each corpse with a bell (used in the "old days" in case a corpse is, well, not a corpse).

Now, just the thought of a movie starring Brian Cox (Manhunter, Adaptation) and Emile Hirsch (Into the Wild, Killer Joe) as father-son coroners is enough to tantalize the horror buds. That it's the first Engish-language film by the Norwegian Trollhunter director André Øvredal should send all horror aficionados into conniption fits of joy.

The Autopsy of Jane Doe is one of the creepiest, scariest horror films of the year. It does not disappoint. The screenplay by Ian Goldberg and Richard Naing is both original and intelligent, but not without a few familiar horror tropes and frissons to keep everyone on the edge of their seats. With the uber-talented Øvredal at the helm, brilliantly utilizing the astonishingly designed set to maximum impact, we are drawn into a gloriously terrifying and happ-happ-happily sickening cesspool of sheer terror.

Cox and Hirsch are great actors to be sure and acquit themselves beautifully, but the really amazing performance comes from Olwen Kelly as the corpse. Playing dead might be one of the hardest things actors have to do, but given that Jane Doe is a corpse that begins to take on the chilling properties of an entity infused with the spirit of life, or afterlife, Olwen's command of both her body and face throughout the entire proceedings is thespian artistry of the highest order.

There is much I could further reveal about this terrific picture, but frankly, audiences owe it to themselves to experience every clever, shocking turn of the plot amidst an atmosphere of mounting doom, all on their lonesome. Well, preferably not on their own. It's worth seeing with someone you love, or for that matter, just someone.



The Autopsy of Jane Doe plays in the Midnight Madness section of TIFF 2016. It will be released theatrically for Christmas via Raven Banner and IFC Midnight.