I really don’t know how to start this review.
I mean, I usually start things off with a quick summary of the plot, and then go into some spoilery details about specific things I liked or other things I wish they had done differently.
But I don’t think I can do that here. I feel a bit stymied. I don’t want to tell you anything about this movie. I don’t want you to watch the trailer. I don’t want you to read any other reviews (and I really don’t want you to read the rest of this one until after you watch it, but my boss would probably not like that too much). I watched the trailer weeks ago, and after seeing the whole movie, I wish I hadn’t. It gave too much away (granted, I didn’t feel that way until after I had seen the finished film, but still).
So: an anonymous dead young woman is found in the basement of a house where many other people died in violent and horrible ways. The Jane Doe (SPOILERS!) is taken to the local mortuary, where Tommy Tilden (Brian Cox) and his son Austin (Emile Hirsch) perform an autopsy on her. And…uh…they find some things that are not…um…normal. And then more crap goes down. And then it gets worse.
And, seriously, that’s all you’re getting out of me. To say anymore would do a major disservice to this horror-mystery-thriller (and make no mistake, at the center of its black little heart, it is a terrific mystery).
But here are some things I can say: Brian Cox as Tommy is fabulous. He is wry and playful and serious and intense, often all in the same scene, and it all works. He is the anchor of this thing and when one mysterious clue leads to another, he is like a dog with a bone and will not let go. He doesn’t steal the scenes he’s in, but he certainly does drive the getaway car. Emile Hirsch is okay, but oddly bland and unemotional at times.
The rest of the supporting cast are solid, including Olwen Kelly as the titular Jane Doe. You would think she has the easiest job, but in reality her work here is actually subtle and remarkable. I’m not kidding. She has a luminescent otherworldly quality that plays well against the dark and dreary basement autopsy room.
Director André Øvredal (Trollhunter) deserves high praise for the meticulous way he has crafted this movie, like a rancid onion that looks normal and delicious on the outside but gets worse and worse with each layer you peel away. He is patient and careful in what he reveals, dragging you along inexorably to each new surprise. Ian B. Goldberg’s and Richard Naing’s screenplay gave an intricate and original blueprint for Øvredal to follow, and the whole thing comes together in unique and surprising ways.
Even the parts that were slightly telegraphed and par-for-the-course were made acceptable and enjoyable by the sheer audacity of what came before and what came next. And next after that. There is a lot going on here, and not all of your questions will be answered completely (but they will be hinted at, and argued for and against). The entire movie is a brain teaser puzzle, and I loved it.
Go into this with an open mind and a patient heart and you will be richly rewarded. Check it out, so sez Uncle Mike.