It’s unfortunate that we’ve had to wait so long in-between films from the talented mind of André Øvredal, whose last feature was 2011’s surprisingly fun Trollhunter. But what’s just as surprising (maybe even more so) is The Autopsy of Jane Doe, a film that flew mostly under the radar all year long—and it just so happens to be one of the best horror films of the year. In it, father and son coroners receive a strange homicide victim with no apparent cause of death. As they attempt to identify the beautiful young “Jane Doe,” they discover increasingly bizarre clues that hold the key to her terrifying secrets.
What’s especially surprising about The Autopsy of Jane Doe is the way Øvredal spins the entire story about a mysterious corpse into something so sinister and creepy—it’s the kind of movie that immediately crawls under your skin and stays there. And how he does that is by keeping the story one step ahead of the viewers—the film never goes in the direction you think it will, instead Øvredal uses that mystery to his advantage. A lot of horror movies would have done the obvious with Jane Doe—it could have easily turned into a story about zombies—but Øvredal brings something entirely new to the table that gives his film life—life that’s surrounded by death no less.
And that’s why the film is so compelling, too, is that so much of the story is building towards the unknown—who is this Jane Doe and how did she die? So Øvredal plays with that, creating a story that’s equal parts thrilling and a total nightmare. The great thing about this movie is that it’s entirely spent with the two coroners, a father and son, who get the body of Jane Doe and expect it to be a routine autopsy, except it’s anything but. Without getting too much into the bloody details (it’s best to go into this movie cold), the further they dig into Jane Doe, the more surprises they find. There’s this corpse laying on a table, dead as can be, yet the more they cut open, the more the story comes to life and ultimately the freakier it gets.
It’s a wicked concept, building an entire story around the death of a young woman, and Øvredal does a phenomenal job of realizing it, creating a nightmare of a movie that gets creepier as the narrative unfolds. But as strong as this movie is, it leaves too many loose ends behind—it’s one of those stories that has so much lore to tell that it’s nearly impossible to learn all the details in such a short time. And the thing is, the movie pours it on so fast during the final act that it can’t answer all of its own questions. It hurts the movie ever so slightly because the entire story is building towards this big mystery, a mystery that it ends up stumbling over in the final act. It’s just a small hiccup in an otherwise great horror film that deals with death in a way we haven’t seen before, using a corpse to tell a disturbing tale about the secrets of the dead.