You know a film has really got under your skin when halfway through you notice one hand is numb from being clenched so tightly. You know it’s pushing you to the edge when you consider breaking your own rule about leaving films early on three separate occasions because you can’t take the tension. I’ll never be able to watch an autopsy again without a shiver of fear. There go my Sunday mornings.
Autopsy begins with a simple premise that feels like a sucker punch. An out-of-place corpse has been found at the scene of a routine domestic massacre and pathologists Tony (Brian Cox) and his son Austin (Emile Hirsch) are called in to explain the cause of death before the morning. Easy.
As they work, the facts build up, but don’t add up. The Jane Doe has brutal internal injuries but no signs of external damage. It’s safe to say that things escalate from there, but to explain further would be to ruin Autopsy’s brilliant script. Writers Ian B. Goldberg and Richard Naing keep the audience guessing with possible answers ranging from torture to the supernatural and aliens to the occult.
André Øvredal’s direction is also magnificent, keeping the action believable and tense even as things escalate. There are horror standards like jump scares and flickering lights, but they are used sparingly and very effectively. Likewise, Cox and Hirsch’s great performances reject the easy hysteria of much horror, giving the script the respect it deserves. When a film plays its cards so close to its chest the reveal can be disappointing, but Øvredal delivers emphatically.
Watching Autopsy was one of the most terrifying experiences of my life. I left the cinema needing a hug, a cup of tea and a cry. What more could you want from a horror film?
CAST: Brian Cox, Emile Hirsch, Ophelia Lovibond, Michael McElhatton, Olwen Kelly
DIRECTOR: André Øvredal
WRITERS: Ian B. Goldberg and Richard Naing
SYNOPSIS: Cox and Hirsch play father and son coroners who receive a mysterious homicide victim with no apparent cause of death. As they attempt to identify the beautiful young Jane Doe, they discover increasingly bizarre clues that hold the key to her terrifying secrets.