Rated R for a lot of reasons. It's a horror movie, but it is also a horror movie surrounding an autopsy. Because they are dissecting a corpse, there's going to be a naked person throughout the movie. Then they have to cut into this naked person and do some awful things to the body. Of course, Jane Doe has had horrible things happen to her and she's also haunting the coroners. There's a lot. I suppose there is language in there, you know, in case that's the thing that's holding you back from watching something. R.
DIRECTOR: André Øvredal
I technically should have written this yesterday. Yeah, I had a break in there because I had actually caught up with my backlog of blogs, but that's not why I didn't post yesterday. We're officially on quarantine. That's something that's part of the new reality. I'm home with the kids, which is four of them. Having a newborn that you are holding all day kind of puts a kink in the writing schedule, so I apologize if I'm sporadic about posting for the next ten days. I'm writing this stuff in the few minutes that the students are remotely working on assignments, so I don't know how in depth this blog will be. Regardless, I'd rather do something than nothing, so here's my best attempt to get a blog out in a criminally short amount of time.
I really need to stop believing hype. Maybe it is because I'm a broken person who has seen too many horror movies. (I'm not even a horror buff. I just watch a lot of movies and don't necessarily dislike horror.) It's just that I heard that The Autopsy of Jane Doe was supposed to be next-level. It was supposed to be one of those films that not a lot of people saw because it was just too terrifying. But after I watched it, I have a feeling that it was probably marketed as such and that it wasn't real hype that I was hearing. The marketing team probably knew that this was a small, low-budget horror movie that was going to be mildly okay and they decided to pretend that it was a cult flick that was going to blow minds. It really wasn't that. It was simply a movie that had some mild jump scares. Considering that the movie connects itself to witches, it only does an okay job, especially that we're in a post-The Witch era of horror movies.. The bar for scary witch stuff is pretty high and The Autopsy of Jane Doe really only ticks some boxes.
I have a few things I want to focus on in this blog. One of them is pretty petty. The other is a central philosophy to the story. I'm going to talk about the nature of scares in horror movies. There's a scene in the movie that involves a lot of story pieces being in place for this scare to work. I'm talking specifically about the bell thing. One of the more telegraphed scares in the movie involves the bell on the end of a cadaver's toe. Apparently, according to the film, back in the day, morticians and coroners would tie a bell to the toe of a cadaver to ensure that it was dead. It made sense back then because there wasn't great medical equipment to ensure that someone wasn't dead instead of displaying minimal signs of life. I don't know how accurate this is. It seems pretty legit. But the problem is, this isn't an old timey tale. This story takes place, for the most part, in modern day. When asked why Brian Cox's Tommy still does this, he says something along the lines of respecting the past or not letting things go. That's not a real good answer. By that logic, he would have to special order bells that attach to toes, which I'm sure a bunch of departments would have a real problem with. What I'm kind of dancing around is that there's a lot of effort for the film to get one very specific kind of scare into the movie. Because there is something haunting about the ringing of a bell getting closer and closer. But the fact that the movie is just begging its audience to be cool with something that really has no place in reality is cuckoo bananas. There's a lot of "Sure" reactions that I had.
This similarly applies to the song that keeps coming on the radio. It's a very haunting song that ties into some of the lyrics a cryptic message about Satan. Sure, we could say that Satan is pulling this witch's strings. But everything about the story is about how old and ancient the Jane Doe actually is. The more that the coroner uncovers, the more we find out how the body is hundreds of years old, a victim of the Salem Witch Trials. Why is a victim of the Salem Witch Trials committed to a song that sounds like it came out of the 1930s or 1940s? Yes, this is haunting. I won't deny that the song is very, very creepy. But it also is a song that doesn't belong in this movie. (A stray thought: The New Justice League Snyder Cut trailer came out today and, once again, he scored it to "Hallelujah", one of the most overused songs in cinema. He did it in Watchmen and he's doing it again for Justice League. *sigh*, back to our previously scheduled program.) This is my problem with a lot of the movie. It is doing things for scary sake, but not for story's sake.
I know it seems like I'm griping. Some things are allowed to throw everything at the screen and see what stick. But these movie tend to be a tad bit more corny than what we're watching in Autopsy of Jane Doe. This is a movie that is begging its audience to take it seriously. Every element of this movie shouts to the rooftops that it is going to be bleak and morose. If the movie is taking itself that seriously, it also has to be conservative with the details it sets forth. That song and the bell are things that don't belong in this film. They are haunting and spooky, but the narrative doesn't support either moment. Save it for another movie. Those things would crush in other films, just not in this one. Actually, I'm pretty sure the bell thing did happen in another movie and it was actually pretty good scene. The bells, in this case, were on the tombstone themselves and it was a fairly effective scare coupled with a story that supported that scare.
My other big beef with the movie is the motivation of the witch. I kind of went off with this when I wrote about Life. I like when morality is tied to consequences. Tommy and Austin are two good people. Their job is to help the silenced tell their story. The reason that they are autopsying the titular character is because someone has wronged this girl. From everyone's perspective, there is a mystery and they are trying to get justice for this girl. Heck, Austin is even more sacrificial. He has to put his relationship on hold because there's such a priority to solving this crime. So when it is revealed that Jane Doe is hurting all those who hurt her in the same way, it's a weird punishment. We have these two male characters who are committing disturbing acts to a woman who is ultimately technically alive. I'm not sure exactly how the story frames Jane Doe, but she's supposed to be still living kind of. But there's a crisis moment in the story where Austin asks his father to stop cutting her open. Tommy does not stop and that's when Jane Doe decides to get her revenge. But the intentions of the coroners is that of allyship. They view this woman as a victim and they want to restore her as best as they can. There is this big apology for continuing the autopsy, but why are they apologizing? Is the movie condemning the notion of justice and devictimization of women? The reason that Jane Doe is so angry is because men tortured and killed her. They victimized her brutally. But these two men are trying to fix the damage that they did. Why are they punished so? It's a really weird call because neither Tommy nor Austin have any kind of moral hangups that involve this. Heck, Tommy had lost his wife and decided to get closer to his son. If anything, Tommy becomes a victim for his entire life.
I probably don't have the patience or time to go deeper into this movie, but it quickly fell into the category of "Just another horror movie", which is a bit of a bummer. It's fine, but it also has a lot of loose ends.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.