Review: The Autopsy Of Jane Doe

This article was first published to The Edge on 31st January 2017

I’m by no means the person to ask about the history of horror in film, but you don’t have to be an expert to notice the subtext trend in the genre’s most recent successes. The Babadook is about depression and grief. The Witch is about fear of femininity and powers that a masculine worldview doesn’t understand. The Invitation, also about depression and grief. Last summer’s surprise hit Lights Out is concerned with the same, and the pain that families both hide and pass onto each generation. The Autopsy Of Jane Doe touches on all of these and more. It’s far from the best of the bunch, but it’s a punchy addition to the canon, bridging the gap between eerie chamber pieces like The Invitation, the atmospheric restraint of The Witch, and inevitably the more schlocky, booming crowd-pleaser tradition of Lights Out. It makes for a compelling, somewhat jarring stylistic and thematic cocktail.

When a near pristine corpse is found, half buried and naked at the scene of a violent triple murder, she is brought to the family mortuary of Tommy and Austin Tilden (Brian Cox and Emile Hirsch). Dubbed ‘Jane Doe’ (Olwen Catherine Kelly), the father and son duo are tasked with uncovering how she died. But the further they go in their work, the stranger it becomes.

Director André Øvredal (of 2011’s Troll Hunter) brings a great deal of expertise and functional filmmaking to the picture, harmonious to his protagonists’ professionalism. Just as Tommy and Austin narrate their findings to the camera whilst conducting their autopsy, Øvredal uses the first act to efficiently, if clunkily, establish their characters. Through an opening autopsy, and the introduction of the titular subject, we discover how Tommy is the consummate professional, warm beneath his more repressed mannerisms. Austin is as caring, but more concerned with motive than the rational cause-and-effect of death; they share an untense and considerate relationship, but both are hiding something. The senior Tilden is still grieving and blaming himself for the death of his wife, whilst the younger is keeping secrets with his long-term girlfriend Emma (Ophelia Lovibond, in a promising but disappointingly small role).

None of the male characters here are especially masculine: Cox’s performance shines as he modulates the professionalism and fatherly warmth with a pervasive sadness that seems constantly at odds with his battle for rationality; Hirsch may play the lead role, but he’s the support in the mortuary, less sinister or tic-laden than he’s played in the past; even Michael McElhatton’s Sheriff seems cautious and aware of how out of his depth he is. But they’re all varying degrees of rational in the masculine sense, and watching that degrade as they’re presented with an unexplainable woman is one of the story’s key arcs.

Where the film begins to decline is, as with many, after the midpoint. Around the midpoint, the oppressive atmosphere – meticulously built upon increasing uncertainties – practically explodes off the screen. The chamber based dread shifts to explicit violence and ghost tactics, as the sound mix becomes dominated by loud noises. Not that this is bad; this detonation is the single most terrifying scene of the film, in no small part because of the impeccable editing and greatly discomforting cacophony. But this shift may turn off the more intellectual genre-fans, and they’re not the only genre tropes that undermine it – more than one sub-plot is clumsily closed, whilst the ending doesn’t satisfy. Still, The Autopsy Of Jane Doe is a great showcase for André Øvredal’s talent at opposite stylistic ends of the horror genre, and a point of confluence for the genre’s most recent thematic focal points. It’s a great Friday night scare-fest, a compelling mystery, and an almost brilliant study of hidden pain.

The Autopsy Of Jane Doe, directed by André Øvredal, is pending UK distribution. Certificate TBC.

Film Review: American Honey

This article was originally published to The National Student on 10th October 2016

When Star (Sasha Lane) meets Jake (Shia LaBouef) he proposes that she join him and his friends in their work as a travelling magazine sales crew, in Andrea Arnold’s latest Cannes triumph. 

Their instant spark convinces her to abandon the broken and impoverished home life she leads in Kansas, and set out with the team. Under the watchful eye of the white trash queen bitch Krystal (Riley Keough), she travels the south and Midwest of America, selling subscriptions and experiencing a greater amount of life than she previously had. But as she pursues a relationship with Jake, her newfound freedom and family is placed in increasingly precarious situations.  Continue reading

Film Review: Nerve

This article was originally published to The National Student on 27th July 2016

★★★★☆

You’d be hard pressed to think of a film from the last year that opens with a scene more on-the-nose as Nerve.

NerveEmma Roberts’ Vee is procrastinating on her Macbook, Facebook stalking her high school’s football star, and listening to “sick choons” on Spotify. We see close ups of her cursor as it hovers over various icons; it waits temptingly over the “Like” button for her crush’s photo; we see her biting her lip, her facial movements tentative in extreme close-up; Vee gets a Facetime call from her best friend Sydney (Emily Meade). Continue reading

Justice League, Wonder Woman, Blair Witch and all the other best trailers from San Diego Comic-Con

This article was originally published to The National Student on 24th July 2016

Every July, film studios flock to San Diego Comic-Con, the biggest event of its kind in the world, to show off their latest productions to the nerdiest people in the world.

In recent years, to side step the piracy problem, those same studios have been releasing the footage they show there to the general public, within a few hours.

We’ve collected the best (or otherwise) footage revealed in the famed Hall H from the last few days, of the films you should know about over the next year.

Spoiler – there’s a lot of superheroes… Continue reading

Film Review: Star Trek Beyond

It’s difficult to imagine the recent abundance of spacefaring films existing without the success of J.J. Abrams’ 2009 Star Trek reboot. Since then, Guardians Of The Galaxy, The Martian, and more, have boldly gone where Gene Roddenberry went first. The latter film especially, displayed the same ambitious vision of humanity as the original series: an unfailingly diverse set of people, using their problem solving abilities to save people, inspiring the planet at the same time. As much fun as Abrams’ first film in the franchise was, it’s always been more Star Wars than Star Trek; Into Darkness may as well have been any post-9/11 fear-infused action film, despite its ill-founded homaging of Wrath Of Khan. After that slight misfire, Paramount chose Justin Lin to replace Abrams. As a director known best for his orchestration of the unabashedly silly Fast & Furious films, it would be easy to dismiss him. It would also be wrong. Star Trek Beyond brings the en-vogue Pop fun of Guardians Of The Galaxy and the same hopeful attitude that The Martian wowed audiences with. It’s undeniably a modern blockbuster, yet it’s also the most classically Star Trek thing to wear the label in decades. Continue reading

Film Review: Warcraft: The Beginning

This article was first published to The Edge on 12th June 2016

It’s incredibly easy to spot the difference between a film which makes big strides in the name of a studio’s cynical interests, and one where risks are taken by a truly talented filmmaker straining his every muscle to create something special under the weight of studio expectations. Duncan Jones’ third directorial feature is exactly in line with the latter category – his determination and vision in creating the Orcs in Warcraft: The Beginning alone, is the sort of landmark for CGI and motion capture that would be impossible to find in another director’s stab at this material. Continue reading

Film Review: Race

This article was originally published to The Edge on 9th June 2016

There’s a true, convincing love story at the heart of this biopic; but it isn’t the one between Jesse Owens (Stephan James) and Ruth Solomon (Shanice Banton). It’s the one between Owens and his coach Larry Snyder (Jason Sudeikis). Buoyed by immensely charismatic, emotional and empathetic performances from the two, the relationship grows as many coach-player relationships do in sports movies: from an aloof coach with the optimistic, often outsider player, into mutual respect and then a true friendship. It’s standard stuff, but at its best Race makes it work like gangbusters. By the halfway mark, as coach and runner make the Transatlantic voyage to Berlin for the Olympics, a small gesture by Snyder to stay below deck with Owens cements their bond. In fact, it’s something of a surprise that both men can make it through the events of the film without actually kissing. Continue reading

Film Review: Alice Through The Looking Glass

This article was originally published to The National Student on 11th May 2016

★★☆☆☆

How do you make a sequel to one of the most successful, critically savaged films of the century?

2010’s Alice In Wonderland was a green screen, Tim Burton-fever nightmare, with few characters who actually resembled real people, personality or appearance-wise.

This sequel, more than half a decade later, obviously seeks to capitalise on the more than Billion-dollar grossing success of the original, and without Tim Burton behind the camera (he’s serving as a producer; the guy behind-the behind-the-camera guy), you’d hope it could indeed be an improvement. Continue reading