The Autopsy of Jane Doe

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The Autopsy of Jane Doe
The Autopsy of Jane Doe.jpeg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by André Øvredal
Produced by
  • Fred Berger
  • Eric Garcia
  • Ben Pugh
  • Rory Aitken
Written by
  • Ian Goldberg
  • Richard Naing
Starring Olwen Catherine Kelly
Music by
  • Danny Bensi
  • Saunder Jurriaans
Cinematography Roman Osin
Edited by Patrick Larsgaard
Distributed by IFC Midnight
Release date
  • September 9, 2016 (2016-09-09) (TIFF)
  • December 21, 2016 (2016-12-21) (US)
Running time
86 minutes
Country United States[1]
Language English
Box office $6 million[2]

The Autopsy of Jane Doe is a 2016 American supernatural horror film directed by André Øvredal. It stars Emile Hirsch and Brian Cox as father-and-son coroners who experience supernatural phenomena while examining the body of an unidentified woman (played by Olwen Kelly). It premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival on September 9, 2016, and was released on December 21. It is Øvredal's first English-language film.


An unidentified corpse of a woman is found half-buried in the basement of a house, the scene of a bloody and bizarre homicide. A police officer on the scene finds no signs of forced entry, suggesting that the victims were trying to escape from the residence.

Small-town coroner Tommy Tilden and his son Austin, who assists him, were just completing the autopsy of a burned corpse when Austin's girlfriend, Emma, arrives. She notices a bell tied to the ankle of a corpse. Tommy explains that coroners in the past used bells to signal if a body was actually just in a comatose state instead of really dead. The sheriff arrives with the mysterious body and tells Tommy that he needs the cause of death by morning. Austin, despite having a date with Emma, stays to help his dad instead. Though Austin asks her to come back for him in two hours so they can catch a later show.

Since the body's identity is unknown and its fingerprints are not on police records, they refer to her as Jane Doe. Various observations of the body seem to contradict each other. There are no external visible signs of trauma, but her tongue had been severed, and her wrist and angle bones had been shattered. The condition of much the body suggests that death had just occurred, while cloudiness of the corpse’s eyes suggests that she had been dead for a few days. Austin discovers she is missing a molar and that she has a long, white thread stuck to the inside of her cheek.

As they begin the internal examination the radio starts to randomly switch channels. Austin discovers that the corpse’s blood, which he had stored in the freezer, is leaking. When Tommy cuts her chest open, the corpse bleeds profusely, which typically happens only to fresh corpses. The corpse’s severely blackened lungs suggest she had suffered third-degree burns, while other internal organs reveal numerous cuts and scar tissue – signs of repeated stabbing.

Austin hears a sound outside the examination room. Looking in a mirror, Austin sees a standing figure, but finds nothing when he turns around. He follows the sound to an airshaft; where he finds their cat, Stanley, badly hurt and bleeding. Tommy kills Stanley out of mercy and burns the body in the cremation furnace. Back in the exam room, they find Jimsonweed (Datura stramonium) in Jane Doe's stomach, a paralyzing agent only found in the north of the country. Austin hears over the radio about a strong storm coming and wants to leave. Tommy states that he will finish what he started and Austin reluctantly concurs.

Later, Tommy finds the woman's missing tooth wrapped in a piece of cloth in her stomach. They find Roman numerals, letters, and a drawing on the cloth. When Tommy separates the skin on her chest from the body, they find similar symbols on the inside of her skin. The lights in the room suddenly explode. During the confusion, they see that the storage chambers are empty, the three corpses inside them are missing. They decide to leave, but the elevator does not work and a fallen tree is blocking the exit door. Tommy tries to call the sheriff using a landline, but the connection is disrupted. They hear a bell in the hallway, presumably from the movement of now living corpses, and the office door violently starts to bang, only to suddenly stop.

Austin blames everything on the mysterious corpse. An unseen figure attacks Tommy in the bathroom, leaving bruises on his body. Tommy only saw the attacker's grey eyes. They decide to burn Jane Doe's body in the cremation furnace, but the door to the autopsy room locks on its own, trapping them inside. Austin breaks a hole in the door with an axe, and sees one of the living corpses on the other side. They then set on burning her in the exam room, but the fire spreads and burns the camera that was recording the autopsy. Putting out the fire, they find that the body is not burned at all. The elevator turns back on and they rush to get in; however, the door does not close completely. In the ensuing chaos, Tommy uses an axe against what he believes to be one of the animated corpses. When they exit the elevator, Austin shockingly realizes that what he thought to have been one of the corpses is actually Emma.

Austin says that Jane Doe's corpse has been preventing them from finding out the truth about here death, and they return to the examination room. Though smoke from the cremation furnace blinds them. Tommy is violently attacked in the smoke. However, they eventually make back to the corpse, and open its her skull. To their shock, the brain tissue cells appear to remain active, proving that she is somehow still alive. Tommy deduces that some mysterious force is keeping her alive. Austin folds the piece of cloth from her stomach, finding that markings form letters mention a passage from the Bible, and Roman numerals for 1693. Tommy finds the corresponding passage in the Bible, Leviticus 20:27, condemns witches. Austin concludes that she must be a witch who died during the Salem trials. Tommy isn’t convinced, noting that Salem was a case of mass hysteria, and that there were no real witches there, and that the corpse’s injuries were unlike those suffered by the accused at trial. Austin, persists, suggesting that if the corpse was “killed” using occult means intended to kill a witch, those same means could have made innocent woman into a witch, and that now she wants revenge. Tommy, now convinced, offers himself to the corpse as a sacrifice, hoping that she will spare Austin. Tommy’s ankles and wrists shatter, revealing that he and begins to suffer the same injuries she suffered. Austin is forced to kill his father in order to end his misery. The lights and radio promptly come back on. Austin hears the sheriff calling to him from outside the building, and runs up a spiral staircase to meet him. When Austin hears the sheriff’s begin singing, he realizes that the voice is another hallucination. Austin turns around to see his dead father standing next to him. Startled, he falls backward over the railing and dies from his injuries.

The police arrive the next morning. As they look for clues, Tommy’s radio plays the news. A weather report promising another sunny day, reveals that the previous night's storm, and likely everything else that happened, were all hallucinations. A police officer notices no signs of forced entry and is again confused by another inexplicable crime scene. The Jane Doe body, showing no signs of an autopsy, is taken to another county. The last glimpse of her reveals a twitch of her big toe, her very first movement, accompanied by the sound of a bell.



Coming off of the success of Trollhunter, Øvredal stated that he wanted to "prove something" – specifically that he could do more than found footage style films. He stated, "It's just a very specific style that you need to get into specifically for that project."[3] The Conjuring proved to be a spark of inspiration for Øvredal, and he said, "it was such a classical horror movie that came at a time where all these movies had tried to do all kinds of different stuff and then suddenly it was like getting back to basics". [4] After watching the film, Øvredal told his agency he wanted to "find a pure horror script", which resulted in being sent Autopsy. [4] The script had previously appeared on the annual Black List. [4]

Martin Sheen was initially cast as Tommy but pulled out.[5] Although there are some prosthetics used,[3] the role of the corpse, for the most part was played by actress Olwen Kelly. Øvredal felt that it was necessary to have an actress for the part to help connect the audience on a human level. [4] On some level the decision was also a practical one as Øvredal believes that doing some of the close up scenes with a prosthetic would've been impossible.[4] Øvredal said that Kelly had the most difficult role in the film, and he credited her with making everyone else comfortable on the set. Kelly was the first person interviewed for the role. Øvredal said they performed further interviews afterward, but he instantly knew she was right for the role. One of the reasons she was selected was her knowledge of yoga, which helped her control her body and breathing.[6] Production began in London, England on March 30, 2015.[7]

The production filmed at Home Farm in Selling, Kent, which doubled as the exterior and kitchen of the Tilden family home. [8]


The Autopsy of Jane Doe premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival on September 9, 2016.[1] It was released in the US on December 21, 2016.[6]


Rotten Tomatoes, a review aggregator, reports that 87% of 89 surveyed critics gave it a positive review; the average rating is 6.8/10. The site's consensus reads: "The Autopsy of Jane Doe subverts the gruesome expectations triggered by its title to deliver a smart, suggestively creepy thriller that bolsters director André Ovredal's growing reputation."[9] Metacritic rated it 65/100 based on 20 reviews.[10] Dennis Harvey of Variety called it a "taut, yet often slyly funny scarefest", though he said the climax is unfulfilling.[11] Though he praised the acting, Stephen Dalton of The Hollywood Reporter called the film an "unsatisfactory compromise" of art-house and exploitation film.[12] Richard Whittaker of The Austin Chronicle wrote that Øvredal "constructs a sinister claustrophobia", then "elegantly and disturbingly unwraps the enigma".[13] Joe Lipsett of Bloody Disgusting rated it 5/5 stars and wrote, "Øvredal masterfully balances the requisite gore with some well-earned jump scares and a foreboding sense of doom."[14] Writing at Dread Central, Ari Drew described it as "mostly effective". Drew complimented the acting but criticized the film's exposition and scripting near the end.[15] Writer Stephen King has spoken in favor of the film.[16]


  1. ^ a b "The Autopsy of Jane Doe". Toronto International Film Festival. Retrieved 2016-09-29. 
  2. ^ "The Autopsy of Jane Doe (Foreign box office)". Boxofficemojo. Retrieved 2017-07-07. 
  3. ^ a b Rife, Katie. "Director André Øvredal on performing The Autopsy Of Jane Doe". AVClub. Retrieved 27 July 2017. 
  4. ^ a b c d e Gorman, Howard. "Interview: André Øvredal Dissects The Autopsy of Jane Doe". Dread Central. Retrieved 27 July 2017. 
  5. ^ White, James (2015-03-08). "Emile Hirsch And Brian Cox Set For The Autopsy Of Jane Doe". Empire. Retrieved 2016-10-01. 
  6. ^ a b Collis, Clark (2016-09-27). "How an actress played dead for horror film The Autopsy of Jane Doe". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved 2016-09-29. 
  7. ^ Kay, Jeremy (2015-03-06). "IM Global boards The Autopsy Of Jane Doe". Screen Daily. Retrieved 2016-10-01. 
  8. ^ Kent Film Office. "Kent Film The Autopsy of Jane Doe Article". 
  9. ^ "The Autopsy of Jane Doe (2016)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 2017-01-29. 
  10. ^ "The Autopsy of Jane Doe". Metacritic. Retrieved 2016-09-29. 
  11. ^ Harvey, Dennis (2016-09-16). "Toronto Film Review: The Autopsy of Jane Doe". Variety. Retrieved 2016-09-29. 
  12. ^ Dalton, Stephen (2016-09-18). "The Autopsy of Jane Doe: Film Review | TIFF 2016". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 2016-09-29. 
  13. ^ Whittaker, Richard (2016-09-25). "Fantastic Fest: The Autopsy of Jane Doe". The Austin Chronicle. Retrieved 2016-09-29. 
  14. ^ Lipsett, Joe (2016-09-19). "[TIFF Review] The Autopsy of Jane Doe Provides Maximum Tension". Bloody Disgusting. Retrieved 2016-09-29. 
  15. ^ Drew, Ari (2016-09-26). "Autopsy of Jane Doe, The (2016)". Dread Central. Retrieved 2016-09-29. 
  16. ^ Collis, Clark (2017-01-12). "Stephen King says The Autopsy of Jane Doe rivals Alien in visceral horror". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved 2017-01-29. 

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