Like morgues weren’t enough of a spooky place, you’d be surely caught short entering one now, after seeing this. Now, morgues have always been a repository for horror movies, but what sets this one apart is the sublimely paced (and intriguing) story. The director knew better than falling in the trap of blazoning severed faces of mutilated people everywhere within the first minutes of the film. We cannot be properly scared until we’re in there with the characters, wrapped up in the story and fearing for our lives. Except maybe for the last part, the movie is pitch-perfect in terms of how events are placed and the story flows.
Two oldish people are found mutilated in their house in Grantham, Virginia by the police and another body- a young woman’s- is found half buried in the basement. What’s weird about it is the fact that it’s utterly unscathed- no marks, no contusions, no anything. Intact. The body is sent to the morgue for an autopsy so as to get to the bottom of it. The coroners working there are Tommy and Austin Tilden, father and son. The father (Brian Cox)- the seasoned one who knows his stuff inside out, and the son(Emile Hirsch) who’s a neophyte as regards splitting corpses open- he isn’t mad about it either but cannot bring himself to tell his dad he’s out. We see at the outset of the film how everything’s going smoothly- they’re joking around, trading remarks, and all’s running like clockwork, like it’s supposed to. As they receive this new body though, things are starting to get a little tricky. As they delve deeper and deeper trying to piece the story of her death together- by cutting the body to pieces, that is- things begin to look eerie and uncannily nonsensical and are heading thick and fast in the direction of that which is not supposed to happen. The body is like nothing they’ve laid eyes on before and self-contradictory physically speaking- wrists and ankles fractured but with no exterior signs, blackened lungs but to such an extent that the body should be covered in burns. The body is completely cold – therefore the girl’s been dead for days- but it’s bleeding like a fresh corpse upon splitting it open. Completely cold, but no rigor mortis. We see of course the typical horror-movie devices. We are presented with things inoffensive now and afterwards used to scare us. We see little bells tied to the toes of the dead and know that sooner rather than later we’re gonna hear them ringing. As they proceed to examine the body a storm starts raging outside and we expect it to play a part and work against our doomed protagonists.The Radio goes haywire and starts giving out weird, conveniently suspicious,ill-omened messages: “One thing’s for sure- you’re not going anywhere”. We know that translates to “get the fuck outta here while you still can”. And the son gets it. He starts to get uptight and suggests they finish it off in the morning. But the report is due tonight and the old, obstinate father won’t hear of their walking out before they’re through. It might be just too late when he decides to leave as they get trapped in there with the stuff of nightmares.
Movies have been drawing on morgues since forever but few have done it so well as The Autopsy of Jane Doe and although it uses the same old things we find in each and every horror movie, it uses them so well we can’t but give in and enjoy it.