Creator Guillermo del Toro starts off the short film by talking about shooting stars that hint at the notion that there is something else in the universe apart from humanity, of course. As a student of science myself, I always say that if we exist, then there must be others as well. And it is a life-long wish of mine to be alive at the time when we make (or someone else makes) first contact. But, until that day comes, we’ve to fuel our fantasies with science fiction. Directed by David Prior, written by David S. Goyer, and based on the short by Michael Shea, “The Autopsy” opens with a guy, Joe Allen (Luke Roberts) causing an explosion in a mine. Sheriff Nate Craven (Glynn Turman) brings in his old friend and pathologist, Dr. Carl Winters (F. Murray Abraham), for the post-mortem examination of the dead miners. What he finds over the course of a few hours makes him (and us) question everything he knows about the known universe.
Major Spoilers Ahead
What Is The Man Behind The Explosion In The Mine?
After the bizarre explosion, we get a brief montage of the town that’s in perpetual mourning because of the death of the miners and the unsolved missing cases. Adding to this morbidity is the fact that Carl is suffering from stomach cancer, while Nate is worried that the family of those who’ve died won’t be able to bury the dead if they don’t get compensated by the state. And that compensation depends on Carl’s observations. So, just like the previous two episodes (“Lot 36” and “Graveyard Rats“), “Cabinet of Curiosities” continues to be about the common people’s problems. That said, before getting to the cutting and the slicing, Carl asks Nate to narrate the events leading up to the explosion. The Sheriff first talks about finding a dead body in the woods that was butchered in a way that only a surgeon could. They tried to bait the killer into getting the body and lost two more civilians in the process.
Later, the dead body was identified as a man named Abel Dougherty (James Acton), who was “abducted” by Allen from a bar. But not like a normal kidnapping. It was more like a vampiric one. Here’s how it went. Abel confused Allen with some guy called Eddie Sykes. Allen said he wasn’t the person Abel was looking for. Abel kept insisting that he was Eddie. Then Abel looked into his eyes – both of their pupils glowing (like the eye effect from “Blade Runner” or “Midnight Mass“) – and started ordering him to drop his beer glass and then asked Abel to take him home. Allen’s voice also went from a regular tone to something that reminded me of Gary Oldman’s vampire voice from “Bram Stoker’s Dracula” or the Bene Gesserit Voice from “Dune.” That evidently put Abel in a spell. He proceeded to get out of the bar with Allen and was then found dead in that forest. So, yes, the lack of blood in Abel’s dead body, the eyes, the voice, everything hinted at this being a vampire film.
However, when Nate and his officers came across the hairy orb in Allen’s apartment, which Allen later used to cause the explosion in the mine, it added another facet to the story. Before talking more about the plot, let’s just take a moment to appreciate the match-cutting and pitch-perfect editing happening in the first 20 minutes of this hour-long film. That’s in large part due to the shot selection and coverage by Prior and his team, as well as the fact that they were allowed to use so many insert shots (usually a close-up of an object or a part of a character). Most of these shots probably don’t provide any additional information. But when coupled with the impeccable sound design, it paints a very vivid picture of the subject in question and makes the viewing experience more engaging. Additionally, the sense of intrigue created by Prior, as he keeps shifting the tone between that of a fireside tale and a serious investigation, is fascinating. I’ll even go as far as to say that “The Autopsy” is a great companion piece to Prior’s “The Empty Man” (which is a film you should definitely watch if you haven’t already).
What Or Who Tells Carl To Stop The Post-Mortem Examination?
Since Nate has no other option left and no one else to go to get answers to his bizarre questions about the case, he requests Carl to do an autopsy on the miners’ bodies. Carl obliges because he’s intrigued by everything around Allen. After reaching the makeshift mortuary, he tells Nate to rest up and meet him in the morning. By that time, he aims to at least go through 2-3 bodies. When Nate leaves, Carl fires up the recorder, prepares his instruments, and starts cutting and making notes. He takes Miller first and finds nothing abnormal about it. He observes that it’s a death by crush asphyxiation and begins to return the corpse to the refrigerated section. That’s when the hair on the back of his neck stands up, and he hears his conscience telling him to leave the mortuary and run away. I initially assumed it was Allen or the universe speaking to Carl because of what he’s walking into. No, just the man’s good old conscience. Considering how he fails to deduce why he must do so; he continues with the autopsy.
While cutting up a man named Jackson, Carl wonders if destroying the orb was Allen’s actual plan and that he wasn’t actually trying to escape. Instead of getting an answer to that, he finds a weird wound in Jackson’s body and notices that there’s no blood in his internal organs. Carl sews him up and moves on to the next corpse, i.e., Brady. Again, he finds a similar puncture wound and no blood inside him as well. So, Carl theorizes that all that blood is actually in Allen’s stomach, thereby fueling the vampire theory again. However, when he does go to the refrigerator unit to take out Allen, he gets the shock of a lifetime. Allen gets out of his trolley and starts walking toward Carl. Shaken to the core by this bizarre occurrence, Carl drops the scalpel, which Allen then uses to probably cut open the sutures in his mouth (from an initial autopsy, I guess). And we briefly see something tentacled moving inside his mouth. That brings an end to the traditional vampire theory and gives birth to the alien vampire theory.
This is truly one of the greatest second acts in a film. Abraham and Turman’s chemistry is perfect. The clarity with which they converse is, in a way, comforting. But when the spotlight (or the light on the examination table) is on Abraham, he (and Prior) maintains that sense of comfort. I am really afraid of morgues. I know the one in “The Autopsy” is a set. However, the production design, sound design, cinematography, and set design make it feel way too real. And it’s Abraham’s scintillating performance that keeps me from shutting down the laptop and running away from the fake dead bodies. Talking about fake dead bodies, that’s some of the best special effects I’ve seen, and kudos to the editor for making the whole act of dissecting them look like a dance performance. Also, since we are talking about physical stuff, I have to say that Allen’s awakening scene is amazing. Roberts definitely channels a little bit of Vincent D’Onofrio from “Men in Black” to make it seem that he’s a man who isn’t in control of his body and is being puppeteered by something else.
‘Cabinet Of Curiosities’ Episode 3 “The Autopsy” Ending Explained: What’s The Fatal Flaw In Allen’s Plan To Possess Carl?
Allen pretty much spells it out for Carl and the audience that he’s an alien traveler from space who is inhabiting Allen’s body because his true form is small and hideous. He says that the ball was his ship, and he destroyed it to preserve his anonymity and the mystery surrounding his species. Allen even says that he can “smell” Carl’s cancer and lets him know that he’s going to inhabit his body next and “love” it. That’s more gross than a regular old vampire drinking blood. Anyway, after trapping Carl, Allen starts preparing for the transfer of his alien self into Carl’s body. Allen considers Carl to be a great vessel because, due to the nature of his profession, Allen (whenever I say Allen, I am referring to the alien in him) can feed on the blood of the dead bodies that are delivered to him. When Carl realizes that Allen is going to cut himself open to make it look like an autopsy and then transfer his alien form into his body, he begins to stall until Nate arrives.
Early on in the film, Carl states that he doesn’t have much time left because of his cancer. He isn’t sad and dejected about it either because, as a man of science, he knows that it’s a natural and unavoidable aspect of life. That philosophy comes into play during his last moments, as he realizes that the only way to stop Allen’s carnage is by severing his essential sensory organs as soon as the alien enters his body. It’s undoubtedly a painful process, but Carl gets it done and successfully manages to trap Allen. The alien says that he’s going to possess Nate as soon as he arrives and survive. Carl assures him that he’s going to die in his body and that the fact that he and his kind exist won’t be a mystery anymore. Because everything that the alien has said through Allen has been recorded on the tape, which Carl was using to document his observations about the autopsy. Additionally, he has etched the words “play tape, burn me” on his body with his blood to ensure that the alien dies, and everyone gets to know who’s the real killer. So, that makes Allen’s arrogance his fatal flaw. He’s so confident about what he’s doing that he fails to notice the most obvious detail in the room: the tape recorder.
As the credits roll, it seems like Nate does play the tape and that the alien does die inside Carl. But it’s not something that can be said for sure because Prior purposefully keeps it open-ended. Since the conclusion is designed to make us discuss, we should do exactly that. In addition to that, we should discuss the absolutely stunning performances from Abraham and Roberts. The last few minutes are just the two of them playing a game of wits, and everything from the dialogue mixing to the choice of shots is dialed up to eleven to make us focus on what these two guys are saying. Because what they are saying is thought-provoking as hell. They are discussing free will versus handing over autonomy to a foreign entity. They are talking about how, even in death, one can be useful. Of course, Allen wants to kill someone so that he can keep killing more people, while Carl is talking about using his final moments to prevent mankind from extinction. And the fact that Prior and his team are doing all these profound musings in a makeshift mortuary is truly mind-boggling. So, at the cost of sounding repetitive, make it a double feature and watch “The Empty Man” and “The Autopsy” right now.