I have been working as a film journalist since 2010, dividing the first four years between radio broadcasting and entertainment writing in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. In 2014, I entered Fresh Fiction (FreshFiction.tv) as the features editor. The following year, I stepped into the film critic position at the Denton Record-Chronicle, a daily North Texas print publication. My time is dedicated to writing theatrical film reviews, at-home entertainment columns, and conducting interviews with on-screen talent and filmmakers, as well as hosting a podcast devoted to genre filmmaking (called My Bloody Podcast). I've been married for seven happy years, and I have one son who is all about dinosaurs just like his dad.
Jared McMillan // Film Critic
Harper (Tye Sheridan) is in the throes of law school while his mother is dying in a hospital. Depressed, he decides to drink away his pain at a bar. It’s here that he catches the attention of a tatted-up criminal type named Johnny Ray (Emory Cohen). Harper doesn’t back down from Johnny Ray, and he’s impressed. They move locations to a strip club, where Harper starts asking questions about getting rid of someone. That someone is his stepdad, Vincent (Stephen Moyer), whom he feels responsible for the car accident that put his mom in the hospital.
The next morning, Harper gets a visit from Johnny Ray to go off his stepdad in exchange for $20,000. With him is his #1 hooker, Cherry (Bel Powley), and her role in this scheme doesn’t show itself just yet. Here, the protagonist needs to make a decision: Off his stepdad, or walk away. This is where DETOUR hits the ground running, as the story seemingly splits into two different paths depending on which adventure Harper chooses.
Christopher Smith, who directed the underrated SEVERANCE, plays off film noir motifs, as the trio banters fast and cool, with an unknown femme fatale type in tow. As the movie progresses however, it becomes too involved in this style to build a coherent narrative (Ex: There’s a point where Harper is watching the actual film noir DETOUR (1945), and my eyes almost rolled out of my head).
Sheridan and Powley are solid as inevitable romance comes into play, but Cohen, who broke out in BROOKLYN, is a bit miscast. His attitude is there, but the look doesn’t really fit the bill. The parallel timelines also become muddled, making it feel more like a gimmick. What starts out as something interesting devolves into a mess. Much like an actual detour, there’s a lot of great things to see but it’s unknown whether it’s worth your time.
The movie opens on a grisly murder scene, where several people are found dead in various ways. Investigators come across an unearthed body, completely intact. They label her “Jane Doe” and transport her remains to Tilden Mortuary and Crematorium. The Tildens are respected in the town, where owner Tommy (Brian Cox), also helps the police as a coroner; his son, Austin (Emile Hirsch), is an apprentice for every aspect of the business. Before closing shop, they are tasked with identifying cause of death for Jane Doe. As they search for any clues during the autopsy, strange things start happening.
To speak any more about the plot of THE AUTOPSY OF JANE DOE would give away much of its mystery. Safe to say, the horror of the movie sets in various methods, from body horror as they commit autopsies, psychological horror because no one knows what exactly is going on, and committing to dread rather than jump scares. There’s also a nifty recurring theme of sacrifice that seeps into the plot, both personal and actual.
It gets a little disappointing in the third act, as it comes away from what made it effective, and opts for a few commonalities in the horror genre. What keeps it from going over the edge is that the filmmakers are smart not to try and explain everything in depth, and keeps the central theme of father and son as something natural without reaching for conflict. Regardless of its tumbles, the movie still maintains that creepy sense of fun we expect from watching scary movies. THE AUTOPSY OF JANE DOE also establishes André Øvredal, who helmed the fantastic TROLLHUNTER, as a welcoming new voice to horror.