Few things annoy me more than an over-hyped movie that doesn’t deliver; one of those things may just well be a critically praised movie that partly delivers only to let me down in the end, because it means I am already invested in a premise that appears original… and then Ι get sucker-punched by the most common of horror tropes.
This is not to say that The Autopsy of Jane Doe is a bad movie. Quite the contrary: it’s scary and atmospheric, heavy on the gruesome factor without indulging in gore, and it keeps you guessing for a long time during the slow buildup of the first two acts. Too bad it all comes crashing down in the third act, offering cheesy explanations for a mystery that could have elevated the movie into an instant classic, but unfortunately just falls victim to the ‘clever’ twists.
In effect, The Autopsy of Jane Doe is really nothing more than an admittedly well-made haunted house film – only it’s set in a morgue. The claustrophobic feel of the morbid setting definitely adds to the overall creepiness, and the fact that a big part of the movie consists of two people digging around the naked, dead body of a beautiful woman augments the already unsettling atmosphere.
While the two main characters are weathered professionals who seem unfazed by the obligatory mutilation of the corpse on their table – and only begin to suspect that this might not be a routine procedure after all much later in the movie, – our sense of unease is present right from the get go as we watch them examine the body of Jane Doe.
Not to reveal too much here, but as the autopsy progresses, their unusual findings are compounded with strange occurrences in their environment. Father and son duo Tommy and Austin Tilden are as puzzled by the mystery as we are; for a minute, it seems as though the police will be called in to fill in the gaps, but that’s obviously not the case – not until the very end of the film. What we get, instead, is rising tension, which is a most welcome change from the admittedly slow burn of the setup.
And then the movie decides to go for the cop-out resolution, which is where it falls apart for me.
While I enjoy vampires and zombies, ghosts, demonic possessions and other monsters don’t usually excite me much. Which is not to say I automatically dismiss paranormal activity as a trope or haunted house movies as an entire genre; but this time the revelation almost caught me off guard, and not in a good, unexpected twist sort of way. There’s a multitude of ways the movie could have gone with the Jane Doe mystery, and the one offered to us just didn’t feel satisfactory, but rather as though it followed the cheap and unoriginal direction that many, many others have already done before.
Overall, it just felt like a missed opportunity, and that somehow annoys me more than an out-and-out terrible film, because this one had a lot of unrealized potential.