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 Kingdom
United States[1]
Language English
Box office $6 million[2]

The Autopsy of Jane Doe is a 2016 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.


The corpse of an unidentified woman is found at the scene of a bloody and bizarre homicide. The sheriff finds no signs of forced entry, though she suggests that the victims were trying to escape from the residence.

Emma visits her boyfriend, Austin, and his father, Tommy, who is the coroner in their small town. Tommy explains to her that coroners in the past used to tie bells to bodies to make sure they were actually dead, not comatose. The sheriff arrives with the mysterious body, dubbed Jane Doe, and tells Tommy that he needs the cause of death by morning. Austin postpones his date with Emma to help Tommy, promising to meet her later that evening.

Tommy and Austin perform the autopsy on Jane Doe and quickly become confused by what they find. There are no external visible signs of trauma, but her wrist and ankle bones had been shattered. As well, her tongue has been crudely cut out, one of her molars is missing, her lungs are blackened as though she had suffered third degree burns, and her internal organs reveal numerous cuts and scarring. Jimsonweed, a paralyzing agent not native to the area, is found in her stomach. The condition of much of 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.

Other mysterious events occur. The radio begins to spontaneously change stations, frequently settling on the song "Open Up Your Heart (And Let the Sunshine In)", and Austin hears sounds and believes he sees people standing in the morgue's hallway. He also finds their cat mortally wounded, hiding in an air duct.

News reports on the radio state that a severe storm is about to hit the area, but Tommy and Austin decide to stay and finish the autopsy.

Tommy finds the woman's missing tooth wrapped in a piece of cloth in her stomach. The cloth has Roman numerals and letters as well as an odd diagram. Similar symbols are found on the inside of her skin. The lights in the room suddenly explode. During the confusion, they realize that other corpses in the morgue have gone missing. They decide to leave, but the elevator does not work and a fallen tree is blocking the exit door. An unseen figure attacks Tommy in the bathroom, leaving bruises on his body.

They return to the autopsy room and they begin to again examine the corpse. Soon they become aware that the door has closed and locked by itself. Austin uses an an emergency axe in an attempt to break the door open. He and Tommy then see that through an opening made in the door, one of the missing corpses is standing outside the door. Tommy decides to burn Jane Doe's body. Unable to get to the cremation furnace, they set her ablaze in the exam room. The fire spreads rapidly; Tommy puts it out with an extinguisher but is disturbed to find the body has not burned. When the elevator turns back on, Tommy and Austin try to use it to escape but the doors will not close. Panicked, Tommy uses an axe against what he believes to be one of the animated corpses. When he and Austin exit the elevator, they discover he has actually killed Emma, who had returned to pick up Austin for their date.

Certain that Jane Doe's corpse has been preventing them from finding out the truth about her death, they return to the examination room. Tests determine that Jane Doe's brain tissue cells remain active, proving that she is somehow still alive. Further examination of the cloth determines that the markings refer to Leviticus 20:27, which condemns witches, and the year 1693, the date of the Salem witch trials. Tommy and Austin reason that in their attempt to punish a witch, the Salem authorities instead transformed an innocent woman into a witch who now wants revenge. Tommy offers himself to the corpse as a sacrifice, hoping that she will spare Austin. Tommy’s ankles and wrists shatter, mimicking the wounds on the corpse. Tommy forces his son to kill him to end his misery, Austin reluctantly stabs his father in the chest with a knife. Believing he hears the sheriff outside, Austin tries to flee but realizes the voice is another hallucination. Startled by a vision of Tommy's corpse, Austin trips over the railing and falls to his death.

The police arrive the next morning and are again confused by another inexplicable crime scene. The corpse, showing no signs of an autopsy, is taken to another county. During the ambulance ride, the radio begins to play "Open Up Your Heart (And Let the Sunshine In)", the camera moves across her body settling on her feet, her big toe twitches.



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.[9] It was released in the US on December 21, 2016.[6]


Rotten Tomatoes, a review aggregator, reports that 86% of 94 surveyed critics gave it a positive review; the average rating is 6.8/10. The website's critical 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."[10] Metacritic gave it a weighted average score of 65 out of 100, based on 20 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews".[11]

Dennis Harvey of Variety called it a "taut, yet often slyly funny scarefest", though he said the climax is unfulfilling.[12] Though he praised the acting, Stephen Dalton of The Hollywood Reporter called the film an "unsatisfactory compromise" of art-house and exploitation film.[13] Richard Whittaker of The Austin Chronicle wrote that Øvredal "constructs a sinister claustrophobia", then "elegantly and disturbingly unwraps the enigma".[14]

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."[15] 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.[16]

Writer Stephen King has spoken in favor of the film.[17]


  1. ^ "The Autopsy of Jane Doe". British Film Directory. British Council Film. Retrieved 27 August 2018. 
  2. ^ "The Autopsy of Jane Doe". Box Office Mojo. IMDb. Retrieved 7 July 2017. 
  3. ^ a b Rife, Katie (21 December 2016). "Director André Øvredal on performing The Autopsy Of Jane Doe". The A.V. Club. The Onion. Retrieved 27 July 2017. 
  4. ^ a b c d e Gorman, Howard (13 December 2016). "Interview: André Øvredal Dissects The Autopsy of Jane Doe". Dread Central. Dread Central Media. Retrieved 27 July 2017. 
  5. ^ White, James (8 March 2015). "Emile Hirsch And Brian Cox Set For The Autopsy Of Jane Doe". Empire. Retrieved 1 October 2016. 
  6. ^ a b Collis, Clark (27 September 2016). "How an actress played dead for horror film The Autopsy of Jane Doe". Entertainment Weekly. Time. Retrieved 29 September 2016. 
  7. ^ Kay, Jeremy (6 March 2015). "IM Global boards The Autopsy Of Jane Doe". Screen Daily. Screen International. Retrieved 1 October 2016. 
  8. ^ Kent Film Office (29 March 2017). "The Autopsy of Jane Doe". Kent Film Office. Kent County Council. Retrieved 27 August 2018. 
  9. ^ "The Autopsy of Jane Doe". Toronto International Film Festival. Retrieved 29 September 2016. 
  10. ^ "The Autopsy of Jane Doe (2016)". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango Media. Retrieved 27 August 2018. 
  11. ^ "The Autopsy of Jane Doe Reviews". Metacritic. CBS Interactive. Retrieved 29 September 2016. 
  12. ^ Harvey, Dennis (16 September 2016). "Toronto Film Review: The Autopsy of Jane Doe". Variety. Penske Business Media. Retrieved 29 September 2016. 
  13. ^ Dalton, Stephen (18 September 2016). "The Autopsy of Jane Doe: Film Review | TIFF 2016". The Hollywood Reporter. Prometheus Global Media. Retrieved 29 September 2016. 
  14. ^ Whittaker, Richard (25 September 2016). "Fantastic Fest: The Autopsy of Jane Doe". The Austin Chronicle. Retrieved 29 September 2016. 
  15. ^ Lipsett, Joe (19 September 2016). "[TIFF Review] The Autopsy of Jane Doe Provides Maximum Tension". Bloody Disgusting. Retrieved 29 September 2016. 
  16. ^ Drew, Ari (26 September 2016). "Autopsy of Jane Doe, The (2016)". Dread Central. Retrieved 29 September 2016. 
  17. ^ Collis, Clark (12 January 2017). "Stephen King says The Autopsy of Jane Doe rivals Alien in visceral horror". Entertainment Weekly. Time. Retrieved 29 January 2017. 

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