Why The Autopsy of Jane Doe Should’ve Stuck to the Autopsy

Often, when I watch a horror movie, I find myself asking the following question:

“What the hell happened?”

Now, when I say this, I don’t mean:

“What was that crazy plot twist?”

or

“Holy shit those special effects!”

I mean:

“Where did the movie go so wrong?”

The most recent horror movie that I watched begged the very same question.

The Autopsy of Jane Doe is a horror movie that begins with such promise. It takes place at a morgue, where a father and son perform autopsies together. The body of an unidentified woman (“Jane Doe”) is brought in by a police officer, who asks our protagonists to identify her cause of death. I was hooked from the moment that Jane Doe was wheeled into the morgue.

The highlight of the movie is its intricate autopsy scene. I watched with fascination as father and son cut into Jane Doe, revealing clues to her cause of death. The visual effects are captivating yet eerie; I couldn’t look away, and I really didn’t want to. The medical explanations for her symptoms are delivered in a manner that convinces us of the characters’ expertise, yet that is clear enough for viewers with limited scientific knowledge to understand. The movie’s fatal flaw turns out to be its decision to shift focus from the autopsy to the supernatural. The Autopsy of Jane Doe would have fared better as a crime procedural than a paranormal exploration.

Early on in the movie, an event occurred which gave me a premonition of clichés to come. The son’s girlfriend visits the morgue and asks to see a dead body. It’s such a natural request, really. One of the bodies shown to her has a bell tied to its feet. The father explains that it’s an old custom, hearkening back to a time when people who were actually alive were mistaken for dead. The bell served as an alarm should a “corpse” wake up in a morgue drawer. I thought to myself as this anecdote was being shared, “We’ll be hearing a bell ringing later on in the movie when the dead bodies start walking around.” Unfortunately, I was right.

Somehow, a movie with a fresh premise devolved into an episode of The Walking Dead. The big reveal of Jane Doe’s cause of death, which could have redeemed the movie for veering off into a farcical direction, only took things from bad to worse. The father and son eventually discover that Jane Doe is a witch from Salem. That, or she was an innocent girl accidentally turned into a witch by her torturers; I admit that I wasn’t quite clear on that point. If you were expecting an elaboration on that plot twist, then you’re out of luck. The movie ends before we get much explanation as to Jane Doe’s origins.

Jane Doe’s a witch from Salem. 
Isn’t it obvious?

The Autopsy of Jane Doe either fails to offer sufficient explanation for its events, or fails in its delivery of explanations. For example, a radio message towards the end of the movie reveals that the father and son hallucinated their experiences in the morgue. This message is so subtle that I missed it the first time. When your method of explaining a major plot twist is barely noticeable to the average viewer, you know that you’ve taken a wrong turn somewhere.

Verdict

The Autopsy of Jane Doe had a good thing going for a while, especially with its chilling autopsy. The setting was creepy in and of itself, and didn’t need much to help it on. It could certainly have done without the cadaver march, but hindsight is 20/20, right?

Recommendation: Watch the autopsy; leave out all of the rest.

~

Originally posted on Fiction Digest.