It’s rare that a movie manages to squander its potential as much as “The Autopsy of Jane Doe.”
While not a conventional bad movie, it sits on a list of my most hated films only because of how badly the ending of the film ruined the movie. While watching, I was sure that this would be one of my favorite movies of all time, only to receive a slap in the face for having such hope.
The first half of the movie is a true masterpiece of cinema — thoughtful cinematography, measured sound design and a premise that evoked true horror in me.
I was immediately hooked because of just how much effort went into every single decision made in the film. The crew and cast were able to create such a sense of tension that I couldn’t bring myself to look away from the screen.
What made everything so perfect in this early part was just how juxtaposed the elements of the autopsy were with the mundanity of the morgue and its workers.
To the workers, the morgue was a familiar location, and what they were doing, despite being grotesque to us, was an everyday event. The confusion they feel with the mysterious findings during the autopsy translate directly into our own sense of confusion about how these things are possible.
The first half is a masterful collection of character development, tension building and foreshadowing of what is yet to come.
Sadly, what is yet to come sucks.
The second half of this film is why I’m talking about this on Bad Movie Showcase because it amazes me that a film that has proven itself to be so competent could have a second half so bad. It’s like going from the original “Exorcist” to its sequel “Exorcist II: The Heretic” (which I plan to talk about soon) at a neck-breaking pace.
One second the film is a masterful combination of storytelling, tension and cinematography, and the next it’s a badly paced mess of jump-scares and overdone tropes.
It also breaks the first rule of any horror movie: actually explaining its villain.
Now don’t get me wrong, having an understanding of a villain isn’t always a bad thing in cinema; but in horror specifically, the only way to keep the audience afraid is to keep us in the dark on the history of the villain and the extent of their powers until the plot no longer needs them as a threat.
Take the “Alien” franchise for example. The best horror parts of that franchise come from not understanding the evil that the protagonists face.
In the original movie, the alien is scary because we have no clue about the extent of its powers, but as the sequels continue on, that horror part of the franchise falls away because the audience already has a full understanding of the threat.
“Aliens” is a great action film, and “Alien 3” a great drama, but neither is a good horror film.
By explaining away all those great, seemingly unexplainable anomalies found in the corpse and giving them a solid reason, it completely ruins any fear of the unknown that it had built up over the course of the film. While we still don’t know the extent of what they can do, it still feels like a betrayal of all that built-up tension with the simple explanation they give.
While a movie can be scary in different ways, I’ve always been a fan of films that dig into our deepest fears. H. P. Lovecraft created this art form, and in my eyes, Junji Ito perfected it; it has been used countless times in some of the best works of horror to differentiate themselves from the multitude of other films.
This film does that perfectly up to a point, giving us all these strange occurrences that seem to be just outside the realm of possibility.
How they managed to ruin it so perfectly I will never know, because it’s almost like they purposely did everything wrong right at the end. They obviously knew how to make a good film and how to correctly instill horror into the hearts of the viewers, yet none of that seems to exist in the ending sequence of this film.
It even ends on the most generic note in horror history, showing the villain fine and still at large and killing people who think they are now safe. It’s such a predictable thing, and I know they do it in case they want to make sequels, but that doesn’t make me enjoy it any more.
In all honesty, I think most horror movies would be better as standalone films. Sequels rarely add to a horror movie and almost never improve on what the original did.
I think that effort should be put towards making new and unique films like this one with great premises. Except hopefully they don’t ruin it like this one did.
I rate movies from 10 to -10, with negatives being so bad it’s good. If I was just rating the first half of this film, it would be an easy 10, yet sadly overall this film is a 6. I would definitely watch it (it’s on Netflix right now), because the first part is more than worth your time on its own, but just know that the second part will do nothing but disappoint.
Today, I want to shout out the importance of sound design in horror films specifically. Without good sound design, most of the best horror movies would just be good at best. Sound design is probably the most important thing in any piece of horror media, even in games.
A good sound design should create a beautiful flow of buildup, tension and relief that keeps the viewer from getting too comfortable at any one moment. Heck, some works are only good because of their sound design (looking at you, “Five Nights at Freddy’s”).
This article was originally written for The University of Tennessee’s Daily Beacon’s Bad Movie Showcase.
Editing done by Evan Newell