The Autopsy of Jane Doe (2016) Review

Spoiler-free so you can read before you watch

The Autopsy of Jane Doe (2016) Review

Horrorific content by Jessica Gomez on June 04th, 2020 | Movie Review | Cursed, Supernatural, Back from the Dead, Witchcraft

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A father and son coroner team must work against the clock to uncover the mystery of what happened to Jane Doe.

The Autopsy of Jane Doe was directed by Andre Øvredal (Troll Hunter, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark) and stars Emile Hirsch (from Freaks), Brian Cox (from The Ring, Red Eye), Ophelia Lovibond and Olwen Catherine Kelly.

Every body has a secret.

Andre Øvredal first made his mark on the horror scene in 2010 with his beloved debut feature Trollhunter. He went six years until he directed again, and he killed it, so to speak, with The Autopsy of Jane Doe - his first horror film shot in English.

Tommy and Austin are a father and son coroner tag-team. Tommy, grieving his wife’s suicide, is a seasoned professional who takes the time to dig for answers, while Austin remains green to the business. He’s smart, but quick to assume a Cause of Death, most likely because he doesn’t share the passion his dad has for the family business. When the sheriff discovers a perfectly preserved dead body beneath the surface of a house in town where a grisly shooting has taken place, Tommy and Austin are given one night to declare what has caused her death.

Jane Doe presents with a slew of baffling ailments. Her wrists and ankles are fractured, but there’s no sign of bruising. Her internal organs have been burned, but her skin is unscathed. The duo must complete a full autopsy before they uncover what truly happened to her. All of her injuries are internal, which works well as a looming metaphor - always sunny and seemingly well on the outside doesn't always reflect the state of a person's inner turmoil.

As they slice further and further into Jane’s injuries, strange paranormal activity begins to follow them throughout the morgue - including interactions with other dead bodies following them, white noise, and a song that continually plays on the radio (Let the Sunshine In) has been used in John Waters films, so that should give you a clue as to how creepy it is. 

It’s a small cast - 90% of the interactions are between the Hilden father and son, and of course, a stoic Jane - but this was important for rich character development. We’re able to learn important backstory, and come to understand the dynamic between the characters in a natural way. It’s easy to care for this family and root for their survival.

This film was a culmination of top-notch work from all parties; Øvredal and cinematographer Roman Osin used juxtapositions between long scenes and quick cuts to keep viewers on their toes, and they never linger too long on Jane’s nude body. Writing partners Ian Goldberg & Richard Naing (Eli) developed a unique and compelling screenplay. While the dialogue seemed slightly forced toward the end while getting to the root of the mystery, the story was captivating. The special effects team utilized both digital and practical effects that were realistic and undeniably scary. The casting was paramount to this film’s success; Brian Cox had me convinced back when he starred in The Ring that he is the perfect dad for horror films, and this was no exception. He’s a stellar actor who takes his roles seriously, and he excelled in his part as a wise coroner, a grieving widower, and a father afraid that he’s losing the last piece of himself. Emile Hirsch is a favorite of mine - it’s hard not to love him, which made him a perfect choice as a young medical assistant who is caught in the purgatory between keeping his father happy while attempting to blossom and depart from the family business. The Autopsy of Jane Doe is criminally underrated.

Worth Watching?

Absolutely. From the first scene, you’re drawn into the mystery, and although you may keep guessing at what’s going on, you’re probably incorrect. It’s creepy, it’s frightening, it’s got some gore without being over the top. Above all, the viewer wants to know what happened to Jane Doe - and an unexpected twist, while a little rushed, keeps it fresh.

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