‘Every body has a secret.’
The Autopsy of Jane Doe is a 2016 British-American horror feature film directed by André Øvredal (Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark; Trollhunter) from a screenplay by Ian B. Goldberg (Dead of Summer; Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles) and Richard Naing. It stars Brian Cox (Trick ‘r Treat; The Ring; Manhunter), Emile Hirsch and Ophelia Lovibond.
In small-town Virginia, police are called to a gruesome crime scene where a family has been massacred in their own house. In the basement, an even more disturbing discovery is made: the partially buried corpse of a nude woman.
The cops take this unidentified victim to a small, family-run morgue, where they ask proprietor Tommy Tilden (Brian Cox) to perform an urgent forensic analysis in order to help determine what happened at the blood-stained house. Tommy’s son Austen (Emile Hirsch) cancels a date with his girlfriend (Ophelia Lovibond) in order to help his father perform an autopsy, and the two Tildens set about their grisly examination in the morgue basement.
Working late into the night as they methodically peel back layers of skin, muscle, and bone, Tommy and Austen are baffled by the lack of external signs of trauma on the victim and the alarming extent of her internal injuries.
Increasingly perplexed and frustrated by these forensic anomalies, the pair begins to succumb to late-night jitters, getting spooked at apparitions that seem to be lurking in the shadows.
As their dread mounts and the atmosphere becomes thick with evil, it becomes apparent that the Tildens’ fate is intertwined with a darkness that neither of them can comprehend…
The surgical procedures and prosthetics used during the autopsy are excellent, and director André Øvredal made the right choice in using an actress to play Jane rather than a dummy. It adds to the realism and allows a much more human connection with the audience. Irish actress and model, Olwen Catherine Kelly, made a captivating corpse and possesses an eerie kind of beauty that adds to her intrigue. What’s more, Olwen was able to use her knowledge of yoga to help control her body and breathing.
A storm starts to brew and before long, the lights are playing up and the cold chamber doors are opening by themselves. Also take note of the radio switching stations and the clips of conversation that could be taken as indirect warnings – nice touch there.
The weirdest discovery the coroners make is a piece of cloth inside Jane’s stomach, which she’s been made to swallow. The imagery and Roman numerals on the fabric, as well as the writing on the inside of Jane’s skin, are indicative of a ritualistic sacrifice.
The escalating storm kills the lights and cuts off the power, at which stage Tommy rightly suggests that they get the fuck out of there. He and Austin hide in another room and we’re treated with that inevitable bell ringing. Yep, the corpse from earlier is now wandering around … or is it?
From the very beginning of this movie, the coroners have no idea what kind of force they’re dealing with – what’s real and what’s hallucination. It’s all about atmosphere, performance and build-up as one weird event leads to another. We do get glimpses of things: silhouettes, roaming corpses and faces popping up through peepholes. Jane is the cause, but how and why?
After a failed cremation that leaves Jane unmarred and severely pissed off, Tommy is beset by unexplained attacks. Austin cuts into Jane’s brain and examines it under a microscope, leading to one of the creepiest moments of the film: the cells are still active! There’s an energy keeping Jane alive, and every time the coroners returned to the lab, I expected her to jump up in a murderous rage.
Thankfully, the film deviates from that predictable route and we’re taken back to the age of the Salem witch trials. With all of the evidence pieced together, Tommy’s theory is that the torturing of innocent girls created the monster that everybody feared. Each time Jane is found, she feeds off people’s energy in order to slowly resurrect herself and leaves behind a trail of unsolved homicides. Jane is still suffering and will stop at nothing to get her revenge. Once again, she succeeds in doing so…
The conclusion seems to be hit and miss with viewers, some claiming that it was either too abrupt or not explosive enough. In other words: no shaky cameras, Donald Duck voices or laughable CGI. Instead we have a well-crafted, suspenseful and original entry into the horror-paranormal genre. The inclusion of documented historical events and witchcraft make for quite a chilling watch.
“Without resorting to cliché or cheap shots (there’s a clever subversion of the usual cat scare), Øvredal conveys a growing sense of a monumental, mysterious force at work while realising that less is more: genuine chills are invoked from seemingly “small” details such as an open morgue drawer or a persistent, tinkling bell. Cox and Hirsch are both terrific…” Steven West, Horrorscreams Videovault
“The Autopsy of Jane Doe is basically a great haunted house movie—the house just happens to be the morgue. And, again, one can’t undervalue having two strong actors like Hirsch and Cox to sell what this movie is trying to sell. They make the unbelievable feel genuinely terrifying.” Brian Tallerico, RogerEbert.com
“Seemingly torn between more refined art house pretensions and knowingly pulpy schlock, The Autopsy of Jane Doe ultimately feels like an unsatisfactory compromise between the two. It is mostly impressive as a technical achievement, especially Matt Gant’s roomy yet claustrophobic set design, Roman Osin’s kinetic camerawork and Krystian Mallet’s superlative prosthetics.” Stephen Dalton, The Hollywood Reporter
Buy Blu-ray or DVD: Amazon.co.uk
“Overall The Autopsy of Jane Doe is an unabashed success thanks to its tightly plotted script, its confident director who knows how to maximize tension and its willing performers who bring charm and depth to their performances.” Joe Lipsett, Bloody Disgusting
“The Autopsy of Jane Doe is proof that Trollhunter was no fluke – André Øvredal is one of the most clever guys making genre movies today and he’s refusing to let himself get boxed into a corner. This is the kind of gem that gives you the fuel to power through a couple dozen lousy horror movies in search of the next great movie.” Jacob Hall, Slash Film
“In its last lap, tense action is replaced somewhat by speculative explication, and the resolution isn’t quite as big a payoff as might be hoped. But to that point, the thrill ride that is Autopsy of Jane Doe is so much fun that one can forgive the climax for failing to top the buildup. Assembly is first-rate in all departments…” Dennis Harvey, Variety
“The Autopsy of Jane Doe implicitly trusts its audience to follow along with the twists and turns of its story, and never treats them like idiots. But it’s also a hell of a spooky blast of a ride, with winning performances and a building of tension that just does not stop. I fully expect this movie to find its way into the hearts of horror fans everywhere – this is one we’ll be talking about for years to come.” Alan Cerny, ComingSoon.net
“It’s an old school horror film that takes the simplest of tools and troupes and brings them to life with a nervous energy that keeps you on edge. A game of cat and mouse if you will as it offers the aspect of figuring out the puzzle and yet still twisting you with startling sound, punctuational jumps and reactionary direction that makes you pay attention.” Jay Kay, Icons of Fright
“Cox yet again proves he’s a craggy character-acting legend, Hirsch is a low-key hero and Kelly does wonders through sheer presence […] In contrast, the female lead with dialogue — the excellent Lovibond — is underused, returning only briefly after being established as intriguingly odd. But that’s a small quibble in an otherwise satisfying mystery horror. Just bring a strong stomach.” Kim Newman, Empire
“While lesser horror auteurs slather their sets in blood and attempt to awe with outrageous gore, Øvredal offers a more sophisticated and scarier story that pulls audiences to the edge of their seats, then pitches them back in genuine fright to deliver one of the best horror films of the year.” Kristy Puchko, Nerdist
“After a steady stream of intriguing hints, the resolution feels blandly familiar, falling back on standard horror-movie tropes that render the story less distinctive and interesting in retrospect. It’s a disappointingly perfunctory conclusion to a tale that seemed to promise a whole lot more.” Keith Watson, Slant magazine
“The Autopsy of Jane Doe conveys a real sense of apprehension and some good scares by means of excellent prosthetics, but using a minimum of special effects. Director of photography Roman Osin keeps the colours muted and oppressive, and creates darkness of palpable density. Music is minimal – predominant are the grisly sounds of snapping bones and flesh being pried and peeled open.” Ren Zelen, Attack from Planet B
” …this is really, really good – virtually a two hander in a single location, making it feel like a Twilight Zone or Amicus episode but not in the least bit padded out.” John Llewellyn Probert, House of Mortal Cinema
- Brian Cox … Tommy – Trick ‘r Treat; The Ring; Manhunter
- Emile Hirsch … Austin
- Ophelia Lovibond … Emma
- Michael McElhatton … Sheriff Burke
- Olwen Catherine Kelly … Jane Doe (as Olwen Kelly)
- Jane Perry … Lieutenant Wade
- Parker Sawyers … Trooper Cole
- Mary Duddy … Irene Daniels
- Mark Phoenix … Louis Tannis
- Sydney … Stanley the Cat
- Yves O’Hara … Deputy Ballard (uncredited)
Mondo/Death Waltz Recording released the film’s soundtrack score via a very limited edition vinyl release on December 19, 2018. Here is the press release and a promotional video which is well worth watching:
“The score by Danny Bensi and Saunder Jurriaans is tense, brooding and a genuinely scary listen (not recommended for late nights if you want to sleep)! It’s pitch perfect in creating mood and atmosphere one minute and letting loose into complete madness the next. The package was designed by Jay Shaw and we wanted to really give you a sense of the movie when you open it. The record is clear with blue and red veins swirling round Jane Doe’s heart and is housed in a triple foldout gatefold that requires you to perform some surgery to get to the vinyl. The whole package is rounded out in a body bag! Strictly limited to 700 copies – one copy per person.”
Available to order via the Mondo website for $32.
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