An unknown corpse of a young woman, found naked and half-buried in the basement of a home involved in a gruesome crime scene, is strolled into a small town family morgue and crematorium by a puzzled local sheriff. Without any idea who this woman is and how to explain the her presence at the scene, the sheriff wants a cause of death on his Jane Doe as soon as possible and it’s up to Tommy and his son, Austin, to investigate what caused her demise and to determine her involvement in the grand scheme of the grisly events. When the medical examiners begin to peel back the layers, each segment of the autopsy reveals impossible and unspeakable horrors underneath her cold flesh that go against their combined years of medical experience and the deeper they dig into her body, the more the autopsy room becomes a spine-tingling area as strange occurrences begin to happen to the father and son. Their only hope in stopping the ominous terrorizing presence and surviving the hell-bent stormy night is to continue the examination in order to unravel the enigma that surrounds Jane Doe.
“Troll Hunter” director André Øvredal helms a contemporary horror masterpiece with the Americana horror film,”The Autopsy of Jane Doe, that can be described as American folklore lit ablaze with modern day macabre that plays like a gruesome adult version of the children’s game Operation. Øvredal pulls inspiration from present day classical horror, including such films as the widely popular James Wan franchise, “The Conjuring,” by not embarking on an overkill journey of heavy duty effects or relying on gallons upon gallons of fake blood to sell his film. Instead, André Øvredal’s “The Autopsy of Jane Doe” is patient, subtle, and massively creepy, utilizing the dated morgue and crematorium basement setting to construct a dreadful, despairing dungeon atmosphere and focus on being very particular with every scene having a function to take advantage of the overwhelming brooding aurora and pop scare moments that can scare the pants off a mannequin. Øvredal heightens moments of complete pin-drop silence to amplify the terror and plays with camera angles that linger longer to leave an unsettling residue pooled in a spine-tingled soul.
Not only is the Ian Goldberg and Richard Naing script palm-sweaty frightening, tack on A-list actors like Brian Cox (“Manhunter”) and Emile Hirsch (“Killer Joe”) as a father and son team pitted against a dead body and “The Autopsy of Jane Doe” jumps up by tenfold as a must-see. Brian Cox is masterful as the widowed mortician whose numb to the pain of life and shock of work, making him a dedicated professional at uncovering the truth inside corpses, and he’s well companioned with Emile Hirsch, the mortician’s eagerly loving son and apprentice to the family business. The only problem is Austin doesn’t want to be a part of the family legacy, but is rooted by his continuously cloaked grieving father and you can see the struggle in Hirsch’s wish-washy character. The pair of veteran actors play off each other well being a medical super duo by conducting examination procedures and digging right into the corpse of dead, disfigured bodies like it’s just another day at the office. The gorgeous Olwen Catherine Kelly is dead on being a dead body. Though Kelly literally doesn’t move an inch for the entire runtime, her slim frame and blank facial expressions are truly haunting, if not also alluring to behold.
Immediately, my first impression of André Øvredal’s film had me stroll back to the past, nearly a decade a go to 2008, with the Marcel Sarmiento and Gadi Harel thriller “Deadgirl.” The premise of the film told the story of two high school aged boys discovering a seemingly near dead young woman in an abandoned asylum; the dead girl being played by Jenny Spain. Whereas each film have their separate horrific identities, their end games bare supernatural similarities. What also separates André Øvredal’s film from Sarmiento and Harel’s “Deadgirl” are the two protagonists; instead of two teen boys pulling hormonal hijinks on a motionless attractive female body, Tommy and Austin are strictly professional, focused on their task to answer the riddle lying inside the very fabric and bones of Jane Doe. The only gripe I can bottom barrel scrape out is how Tommy and Austin had this big ‘what if’ epiphany that becomes the very basis of the entire film and, in my opinion, felt that scene was extremely chintzy and a cop out.
Lionsgate Home Entertainment delivers “The Autopsy of Jane Doe” from production companies 42, Impostor Pictures, and IM Global onto UK DVD and Blu-ray. Unfortunately, a DVD-R screener was sent to me, resulting in no true examination of the audio and video qualities and the only extra on the disc was a Q&A with directorAndré Øvredal. Even if viewers might be able to guess the nature of the corpse – I did about halfway through – “The Autopsy of Jane Doe” is still way ahead of it’s genre brethren in being the best horror film of 2017 with an unlimited amount of sinister wretchedness that tugs at your soul strings and weighs heavy in your mind’s cache as soon as the lights go out for bedtime. I would recommend this title to anyone seeking an unadulterated horror experience.
Set a few years after the 1620 arrival of the Mayflower ship, a faith-entrenched Puritan family becomes ostracized by a tightly knit plantation community and leave their home to settle near a woodland landscape. The family of seven build upon their quaint home, growing crops for food and for trade, but when the youngest child, an infant, disappears into the depths of the dark woods, the family slowly starts to unravel at the inexplicableness of their loss. The once tranquil and beauty of the woods dreadfully alter into a coven for dark and fear inducing figures that root themselves between the family binds, untying their sanity and faith that once held them close and separating them toward a Godless path of destructive witchery.
Writer-director Robert Eggers’s “The Witch” steps into a time machine and travels back in time to the New World era and delivers an American Folklore horror film that’s honestly genuine and deeply haunting. Eggers constructs a mood and tone stripped of comfortable commodities from the moment the family takes on the New World for the very first time away from the plantation. The isolation is immense, the tension is thick, and the cast and crew dynamic squeezes tight around the heart, ripping out every raw emotion and turning the display into a gut-wrenching performance. Eggers had done the appropriate leg work by researching various diaries, folklore tales, and recorded accounts of the time to achieve elaborate detail; even the dialect is true to the period.
The film’s devil worshipping namesake ghastly conjures a simple, yet legendary form. Without the use of glossy special effects, “The Witch” mesmerizes with practical makeup, slight of hand editing, and implied black enchantment while pulling at our internal sinful desires of the flesh, lust and deceit. Eggers kept the mainly nude Bathsheba Garnett in the shadows to give the menacing Witch a closing-in threatening appeal that corners an easy prey, such as children. The Witch’s power, a contractual perk with the devil, is vast and unholy that becomes a fierce antagonist to the family’s unnerving, yet powerless faith.
Eggers and his team uses a sepia visual to devoid much of the color as possible from a naturally bleak mid-17th century community style that’s more binary and cramped, setting the stage for doom and gloom. To continue with the adverse affect, an everlasting current of formidable abstracts are implemented for uneasiness. These signs of inauspiciousness can be as obvious as Ralph Ineson’s sonorous voice as the family’s patriarch and resonating religious leader William or can be as opaque as their corn crop turning suddenly rotten or the reoccurrence of a toying hare and an unsteady, long-horned goat named “Black Phillip, who may or may not be the devil himself.
In the midst of the family being torn apart, the eldest daughter Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy) desperately tries to keep her family together, but with her mother Katherine (Kim Dickie) in severe grief after the loss of her newborn son, Thomasin absorbs the blame and disdain from her mother. Thomasin’s abuse doesn’t end with her mother, which the story mainly touches upon with each of Thomasin’s parents and siblings, in one way or another, demeaning her. The oldest brother Caleb (Harvey Scrimshaw) under the spell of hormones repeatedly stares at his sister’s chest, lusting after the female form. Thomasin’s sibling twins Mercy and Jonas remorselessly believe her and label her a witch from the time of Samuel’s disappearance. Even her father, who stood up for her honor and her dignity when neither her mother or siblings would, eventually broke with a misguided view of trust. Thomasin’s world of faith, family, and, basically, everything she once believed in has been stripped away and without that barrier of ideals, a contract with the devil tempts her weakened will.
Lionsgate home distribution releases the horror sub-genre reviving “The Witch” on DVD and Blu-ray. This review covers the Blu-ray release that consists of a MPEG-4 AVC encoded disc that delivers a stunning high definition 1080p picture in a rare 1.66:1 original aspect ratio. The intentional reddish-brown coloring properly dates the era the film is set and the picture is detailed to display the grit, the dirt, and the muck that further enhances the foreboding of calamity. The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 is crisp and clear, favoring more on the shocking and slightly experimental soundtrack, but still manages to place the dialogue in the forefront, steering clear from the cacophony. Still, I found the dialogue hard to follow because of the puritanical dialect of that time. Bonus features include an audio commentary with director Robert Eggers, the featurette “The Witch: A Primal Folklore,” Salem Panel Q&A, and a design gallery.
Folklore horror hasn’t died just yet. In fact, the sense of a witchcraft resurrection is on the horizon, possessing now a new high profile inside the horror community that’s sure to pick up steam. Newcomer Robert Eggers puts new life into gothic, despondent horror with contrast characters living in a stark reality. “The Witch” will launch Eggers into horror orbit and keep Lionsgate as a friend to the genre.