28 July -3 August 2017 #869

The Autopsy of Jane Doe

You can watch the first half of The Autopsy of Jane Doe and when things start to seem sickeningly familiar, you can turn it off and imagine your own ending
Sophia Pande

I gave up watching horror movies around the time that I realised that the scare was not worth it. The thrills were stale, and the formula repetitive. The Autopsy of Jane Doe, which premiered at the Toronto Film Festival in September 2016, made waves when it opened in cinemas late last year. It is now out on DVD and given the buzz, it seemed worth a try. 

Directed by the Norwegian André Øvredal, the film begins extremely promisingly with the appropriate idyllic, rural setting. In a beautiful family home, a couple have been brutally murdered, the scene is bloody, there is no evidence of a break-in, and in the basement the unmarked body of a beautiful young woman is found, totally naked and half buried. 

The Sheriff (Michael McElhatton), thoroughly unsettled by the ferocity of the crime, takes the body of Jane Doe (Olwen Kelly) to the home of the Tilden’s, the neighbourhood coroners, seeking a cause of death. Brian Cox and Emile Hirsh, respectively, play the father and son team, Tommy and Austin, and the strength of the film rests on the relationship between these two main characters. The Sheriff hands over the body late in the evening, insisting on a theory by morning about how this mysterious young woman might have died. The duo get to work, Austin abandoning a date with his girlfriend Emma (Ophelia Lovibond) to work with his father, who is his mentor when it comes to the forensic analysis of bodies. 

What begins as a terrific medical and detective work procedural slowly devolves into a perfectly clichéd horror movie as Jane Doe’s body slowly yields clue after awful clue. If only the makers and writers had had the wits to stick to the strengths, combining a whodunit with hints of horror instead of going into all out misogynistic horror mode, where witches are malevolent, the dumb, ghoulish girlfriend gets unsentimentally offed, and corpses come to life while doors lock and unlock as lights dim during the inevitable apocalyptic rainstorm. 

You can watch the first half of The Autopsy of Jane Doe and when things start to seem sickeningly familiar, you can turn it off and imagine your own ending. Anything would be better than the utter, horrible banality of what actually happens.  The horror genre has slowly but surely become the genre of absolutely unimaginative filmmakers, who whip the same dead horse until it is painful all around. 

If you want to watch something really, really good, then I’d advise seeing Let The Right One In, a wonderful vampire-horror film from 2008 made by the Swedish filmmaker Tomas Alfredson. Alfredson understands that real horror is in the everyday and not in the grotesque. Evolved audiences are tired of the old tropes of horror where women and witches are the culprits, little girls are possessed along with their poor innocent dolls, and everyone in the film is so lamentably senseless you’re not even sorry when they die. 

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