It is best to know as little as possible about "The Autopsy of Jane Doe" prior to seeing it. The title gives just enough away, and the rest should ideally be discovered alongside its two lead characters, father-son coroners Tommy (Brian Cox) and Austin (Emile Hirsch), as they investigate the cause of death of a mysterious unidentified woman buried in the basement of a home where a family has been found brutally murdered. Director André Øvredal (2011's "Trollhunter
") and screenwriters Ian Goldberg and Richard Naing have made a horror-mystery of elegant craftsmanship and genuine unnerving fear, one which peels away its layers the deeper Tommy and Austin delve into their investigation. To say more would be near-criminal (if there was any justice in the world, a warrant would be out for the arrest of those responsible at IFC Midnight for their egregiously spoiler-filled trailers).
Set almost entirely within the secluded underground confines of Virginia-based Tilden Morgue and Crematorium, "The Autopsy of Jane Doe" builds a quiet encroaching dread from the start, even before the more outwardly eerie stuff begins to occur. In performing their postmortem examination, Tommy and Austin are confronted with the consecration of the very things they rely upon in their profession: reason, facts, and physical evidence. As a young man who sees a different future for himself but is hesitant to leave his widowed father high and dry, Emile Hirsch (2013's "Lone Survivor
") is sympathetic, likable, and honest in his every emotion. As Austin's father, a man who still has not made peace with the loss of his wife, Brian Cox (2015's "Pixels
") matches Hirsch beat for beat, the two of them having to come to terms with the terrifyingly impossible-yet-not situation in which they've found themselves.
The reality the supremely fine actors bring to the proceedings adds immeasurably to the knife-cutting tension director Øvredal mounts, but even their talent cannot quite overcome the cumbersome exposition imparted in the final act. Indeed, a little less would have been far more in the homestretch. No mind. Beat for beat, "The Autopsy of Jane Doe" is one of the more skin-crawling cinematic excursions to have come around in the last few years, a picture that places horrors of the mind with horrors of the unknown on an even, exceedingly chilling playing field.