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I'm just gonna flat out say it. This is now on my list of :Must Watch." I don't care what's in your queue before this movie, watch this instead. Not only is this now on my must watch list with things like Yellowbrickroad and Digging Up the Marrow, it's also on my top five favorite list. In order: Alien, The Thing (1982), The Thing (2011), Autopsy of Jane Doe, Dawn of the Dead (2004)—I haven't see Hereditary or Suspiria (2018), but I'm told they might fight for the top five spot.
Here's what really caught me about this. I generally am not a fan of haunting movies. I'm not. But, if you've seen my review of Oculus, you may remember I mentioned how close it was to brilliance as a 'hunting movie.' Oculus failed to deliver, but as I said then and will repeat, cerebral horror is fucking hard. For that review click the link below.
Until this movie, The Mothman Prophecies and Yellowbrickroad were the only two successful cerebral horrors I've seen. Note, only "Yellowbrickroad" is on my "must watch" list and I wasn't even all that fond of The Mothman Prophecies.
So how did The Autopsy of Jane Doe get added to my all time top five? Let's go back to the failures of Oculus. In fact, Oculus and this movie are very similar to the point they're almost following the same plot. Instead of two siblings, it's a father and his son. Instead of trying to investigate the function of a cursed mirror, the characters are investigating a dead body. It takes place in a confined setting that can't be escaped, in this case a morgue rather than a house. Finally, in both, the item under investigation begins to lay down the woogy, woogy, as it were. I can't get into it further without going into spoilers, but the important difference is two fold. First, the oculus mirror was bad at its job, sometimes stepping on its own toes. Second, Jane Doe walks a perfect line of messing with the characters' (and the audience's) heads and actively punishing them.
This movie not only addressed and fixed my complaints about Oculus, it did everything else right. The acting was fantastic. Good for Hollywood, even. It's no surprise with talent like Brian Cox, who plays the father. It had thick and rich atmosphere. The setting was a fucking morgue for Christ sake. What's not unnerving about a morgue? But more than that, the lighting and even the building were perfect catalysts for the atmosphere. If the movie forces you to turn off the lights so you can see it, it's doing everything right. The plot is dynamic and intriguing and, though complex, easy to follow. The mythos behind Jane Doe is a little boring and obvious, but you just don't care even when it's revealed. My only complaint is that the investigation of Jane Doe leads to a boring and obvious conclusion, and it flat out changes nothing about how great this movie is.
This movie is one word. Brilliant! You just don't get horror this good every day.
SPOILERS!!! Though, I seriously do not want you to read these before you go and watch the movie.
I was a little disappointed with how quickly the son was willing to accept the supernatural. Once shit started getting weird, and nothing had visibly happened yet, he was already pretty convinced it was Jane Doe doing something. Even in the strangest of circumstances, two critical minds like this son and father team wouldn't jump to the supernatural that quickly. I could certainly believe the son as the first to accept it but his character was a little too eager.
I mentioned that the movie was a bit obvious. Once they find the first incantation on the body, my mind immediately jumped to witchcraft. When they started piecing together the origins of Jane Doe, my mind immediately jumped to the Salem Witch Trials. This got me thinking of Jane Doe's possible motivation which lead me to believe that she was still suffering due to a curse. I was correct on all accounts.
Here's why it didn't ruin the movie. They were providing this evidence in the story through Jane Doe's investigation. They're supplying the audience with the information intentionally, almost like and old fashion murder mystery. This movie respects it's audience and whats you to draw your own conclusions logically under illogical circumstances.
But they don't leave it there. The Father comes to these conclusions, of course. He realizes that Jane Doe is technically still alive and can feel everything he and his son are doing to her. They're just doing their job, but to Jane Doe, they're flaying her alive. Brian, the dad, gives up his life to Jane Doe to hopefully relieve her of her suffering. This saves the life of his son, but only temporarily. So, say it with me now, in you best Morbo impersonation, "THERE WERE NO SURVIVORS!!!"
If Jane Doe ever cared that she was wronged in life during the Salem Witch Trials, she doesn't care anymore. She's been a cursed corpse so long, that her spirit is just plain cruel and wants anyone who comes across it to suffer. She has no target nor purpose, just anger. Like the oculus mirror, she is simply malevolent.