It seems almost astounding that Andre Ovredal has really only directed two feature length films. His first, Trollhunter, was a found footage film set in his native Norway back in 2010. His latest, The Autopsy of Jane Doe is quickly becoming the must see horror film of the year.
I had the opportunity to sit down and discuss Jane Doe with the director recently, and even he seems to be surprised by some of the response, especially some of those from really big names in the industry.
“Edgar Wright was tweeting about it a few months ago,” Ovredal enthused, “and now Guillermo [del Toro] and Stephen King, who is like the God of Horror. It’s unreal. I don’t even know how to relate to that.”
Ovredal might not know how to take it, but he’s certainly enjoying the attention for a film that seemed destined to fall into the director’s capable hands.
It all started when he saw James Wan’s instant classic, The Conjuring.
“I remember seeing The Conjuring in 2013, and I was inspired by the playfulness of the direction,” the director explained, “the kind of balance between classic, simple cinematic direction that almost came out of the 70s—obviously the movie was set in that time—and then there was a juvenile playfulness in the direction that I really gravitated towards. And I thought, okay this is how you do a horror movie.”
He contacted his team in Los Angeles and told them he wanted to find something similar in tone and style to the movie, and within a month the script for The Autopsy of Jane Doe was in his hands. When he approached the producers of the film, he learned they were fans of Trollhunter and he found himself in the director’s seat quite quickly after that.
From there it was simply a matter of deciding the best way to translate the script to the screen. He knew that each decision had to be just as meticulous and planned as Ian Goldberg and Richard Naing had been in writing the script and that started with a couple of especially talented actors.
Ovredal admits to being a little star struck at first with both Brian Cox and Emile Hirsch, but, he says, “after an hour of talking and then you’re just there with a couple of fellow human beings.”
Next came the sets, and once again, Ovredal pointed out that the entire map was there in the script. It was just a matter of realizing the screenwriters’ vision. That started with a central set that was built in one piece.
“It feels like you could walk from room to room,” Ovredal stated. “So it doesn’t, in the movie, feel like your cutting from one set to another between scenes. It feels like everything is integrated, and that makes it more alive somehow.”
He also brought lessons he’d learned from some of his favorite genre films to the set to amplify the tension of the film. Many shots in the film use low angles, always showing the ceilings in the rooms to reinforce that the action is taking place in a basement morgue, and viewers can almost feel the weight of the ground above as events unfold within the film. Ovredal also points out that the wide shots he employs were chosen for a very specific reason.
“It’s something I learned from The Conjuring and a lot of other movies. You need a lot of darkness in the frame. You know the audience will sit and stare into the darkness if they can. Like you can see that in the most amazing scenes in The Conjuring and Paranormal Activity. People will just sit and stare down that hallway and wait for what’s coming.”
Throughout our conversation, Ovredal repeatedly returned to Goldberg and Naing’s script, pointing out that everything that he needed was already on the written page for him, and his job was to make sure that the audience felt was he did when he first read the script.
For example, for those who have seen the film already, you might recall a certain bell that rings from time to time and signals danger for Hirsch and Cox. I pointed out to Ovredal that this could have been cheesy in the wrong director’s hands, but he immediately pointed me to the script.
“It was all there on the page,” he said. “It was very carefully plotted into the script. So, I had a similar experience reading it that audience members have while watching it. It was solid from start to finish. Character relationships, the mystery, the forensic notes, they were all in the script.”
“So really,” he added with a laugh, “I’m just the lucky bastard who got to put my name on it!”
I, for one, sincerely hope that luck continues for Andre Ovredal. We need directors like him in the genre to continue to infuse it with new ideas and to take chances on more original material. The director is preparing to begin filming his next project, Mortal, this Spring which will take him back to Norway and his roots in the world of Norwegian fairy tales.
For now, you can see The Autopsy of Jane Doe on VOD and Amazon Streaming!