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Review: Supernatural thriller ‘The Autopsy of Jane Doe’ builds tension with pros Brian Cox and Emile Hirsch

Brian Cox, left, and Emile Hirsch in the movie "The Autopsy of Jane Doe."
(IFC Midnight)

As a horror exercise, the supernatural suspense picture “The Autopsy of Jane Doe” is sometimes too low-key, favoring spooky atmosphere and slow-drip storytelling over visceral kicks. But as an acting showcase, the film’s a winner, getting plenty of juice from the performances of two reliable pros.

Brian Cox and Emile Hirsch play Tommy and Austin Tilden, a father-and-son team who have worked together for years in a small-town mortuary. When the Tildens stay late one night to help the local police determine a cause of death for an unidentified body found under mysterious circumstances, the job dredges up longstanding tensions between the two men, who get more frazzled as the corpse seems to disobey the laws of human biology.

Director André Øvredal (best-known for the 2010 cult hit “Trollhunter”) and screenwriters Ian Goldberg and Richard Naing build suspense gradually, discomforting the audience with the darkness and silence of the lab, and the squishiness of the autopsy itself. In its final third, “Jane Doe” becomes a more conventional spook-fest, with jump-scares aplenty.

But even when the movie’s falling into a straighter line, the early emphasis on quietly nuanced characterizations and a measured pace give the danger more dimension. With each cut into their mystery woman, the Tildens peel back and expose an ancient evil. And with each subtle gesture and earnest line-reading, Cox and Hirsch make two stock horror movie characters real.

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‘The Autopsy of Jane Doe’

Rating: R, for bloody horror violence, unsettling grisly images, graphic nudity and language

Running time: 1 hour, 26 minutes

Playing: TCL Chinese 6, Hollywood

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