Fantastic Fest is often able to pull of some amazing tricks. Among them are the famed secret screenings which always prove to be well worth whatever effort was put in to finagle a ticket and usually end up in the front row early. Fantastic Fest 2010 will always go down as one of the best because of how one secret screening was executed. It was for a movie no one had ever heard of, by a director very few people know. It was for a movie called Troll Hunter and it turned the found footage sub-genre on its head. This year, the man behind Troll Hunter, André Øvredal, brought in an American filmed horror film that still had a layer of mystery despite the straight forward title. The Autopsy of Jane Doe proved that Troll Hunter was no fluke, and André Øvredal is someone to keep an eye on.
The film opens on an investigation into a crime that appeared to be very gruesome. What was already an incredible creepy crime scene was made even creepier by the discovery of a buried body in the basement. We then meet our cast, a father and son coroner duo who are tasked to investigate this freshly buried corpse and help determine what happened to the family inside of that house. Austin Tilden (Emile Hirsch) is just learning the craft, but appears very good at his job and his father, Tony (Brian Cox) is showing him the ropes. Typical of a young person, Austin wants to end the night early to spend with his girlfriend, but a lingering feeling about this mysterious corpse compels him to stay. From there, strange and mysterious things begin to happen, some of which are the stuff of many peoples nightmares.
The Autopsy of Jane Doe is paced perfectly, and as the autopsy continues and the mystery begins to present itself, it does something not a lot of horror movies do, it makes you guess. Horror movies are usually pretty upfront about what’s happening and there’s no need to guess, you just need to sit there and be tense. This movie does that, too, but at the same time you have no idea what it is you’re supposed to be afraid of.
Emile Hirsch and Brian Cox work well as a father and son duo, and their opposite tendencies work well together and turned in great performances. Their subplot is a brilliant one that centers around grief, guilt, family obligation, and occupational obligations. They’re facing way more obstacles than are presented empirically in front of them, and many of the other challenges aren’t vocally addressed, but they are emotionally in their performances.
André Øvredal has taken this challenge of a bigger, expensive movie with recognizable American stars and crafted a great movie. It’s also a testament to his skill that he clearly doesn’t have a signature style and he’s obviously got a wider skill set than Troll Hunter presented, which wasn’t even bad to begin with.
The Autopsy of Jane Doe will be one of those great surprises, the way Troll Hunter was. It might not have the biggest theatrical run, but it will find a place well beyond its initial run and be one of those horror films that gets revisited time and time again.