Let me start off by saying Brian Cox’s character has an instinct for the regrettable that was almost uncanny in this film. Andre Ovredal took six years to follow-up his amazing Trollhunter film and he apparently was waiting for the right script with a unique story. He definitely found what he was looking for with this film. The story is not one I have personally seen before and honestly it breathed a bit of fresh air into my love for tense horror films. You could feel the tension build in this film and beyond some cheap jump-scenes they legitimately had me wanting to the story behind Jane Doe.
For those of you who love gory horror for the sake of gore alone then you may be disappointed with this film. There is a lot of gross things when the conduct the autopsy of the titular character but it is not portrayed in a way that makes you squeamish, more it is clinical and matter of fact. Brian Cox narrates over the whole autopsy and it brings a sense of professionalism and normalcy to the whole affair. This is his job and he has done it thousands of times to the point where it almost bores him. You get the feel of that perfunctory atmosphere until he gets a sense that there are secrets hidden in the body. Emile Hirsch plays the son and protege of Brian Cox’s character and he does a great job contrasting youthful exuberance and quick deductions without reflection compared to Brian Cox’s slower, more methodical and introspective approach. You can sense the years of experience oozing out of Cox while Hirsch has good instincts but still needs to hone them.
My major quibble is with Hirsch’s girlfriend. She serves very little purpose in the film, other than being a device to flesh out the story and give some back story. To be fair though, I would think Hirsch was a lot creepier if he did not have a girlfriend so maybe that was a smart choice. If she was not in the film I would just assume that Hirsch’s character sleeps with all the corpses. He gives off that vibe. The other purpose she serves is to unceremoniously get axed by the dad mid-way through the movie. Literally axed in the chest. This leads to my favorite scene in the movie where the father and son have realized shit has gotten real, even if it is fantastical, and Cox has killed Hirsch’s girlfriend and they are stuck in the elevator while being slowly stalked by a corpse with a fucking bell on it’s ankle to scare the shit out of them when it gets near. The director just puts the camera down and lets Brian Cox and Emile Hirsch act out a very raw and emotional scene where the son is hurt and reeling from fear and the loss of his girlfriend and the father is apologizing for always making bad decisions that his son has to deal with. It is really well done and made me realize the difference between good horror and bad horror sometimes is just the actors buying in to their characters and doing their damn jobs. The movie also does not fall into the cliche of the characters being idiots. Yes they panic and run initially without any plan but once they get their shit together they start to think. This Jane Doe bitch is clearly causing this and she is powerful enough to kill them whenever she feels like and hasn’t. So why are they still alive? I instantly liked both characters more at this point. So they hatch a plan, a stupid plan, but still a plan.
They proceed to bravely go back to the autopsy room and light Jane Doe on fire. Predictably this goes horribly wrong as the fire spreads like the room is made of matches and they frantically attempt to put out the fire, all the while Jane Doe is fucking fine. This does lead to them unraveling the mystery of Jane Doe rather quickly. The weird clues they found when dissecting her all suddenly come together and lead to a fun revelation. Hell they even throw in some factual history lessons that got my history nerd side a tad aroused. Brian Cox then realizes what he must do to save his son and makes a deal with Jane Doe to save his life. He sacrifices himself so Hirsch can have a chance. In a pretty cool scene we see Jane Doe inflict all the punishment she endured onto Brian Cox and restore herself using his life-force, all while Hirsch haplessly looks on.There is a bit of interpretation in the next scene and I think this is what transpired: Cox made the deal with Jane Doe but panics in fear and pain at the end when he asks his son for mercy. Earlier in the movie he broke their family cats neck to put it out of it’s misery in a bit of foreshadowing and Hirsch reluctantly shoves a knife into his fathers heart to end his suffering. I think this breaks the deal Cox had with Jane Doe by not letting her finish draining his life. That is why Hirsch was immediately killed when he tried to leave afterwards.
So the bad guy wins and honestly she fucking should have. The premise makes her the victim and her vengeance is righteous when you think about it. If this really happened no one would live except her so why make it up beat by letting someone survive? No one survives and it makes the movie better. She is an indomitable force that is free to roam the earth. I hope the director revisits this character in a few sequels because there is much more to be told in this story. This movie is an instant classic in the genre and it says a lot when a film can actually have the hair on the back of my neck stand up and this succeeded.