Review: The Autopsy of Jane Doe (2016)


Norwegian director André Øvredal (Trollhunter) greatly impresses with his first foray into the horror genre, The Autopsy of Jane Doe, a tense and atmospheric film set within the confines of a family-owned funeral home in Virginia.

There’s a primal fear in human beings when it comes to death. When I was in high school, I had an assignment where I had to tour a local business and I was assigned to a local mortuary. The people who lived and worked there saw their job as an important one in the community and even had themed funerals to the longshoremen who primarily used their services. I initially found myself taken aback a little bit at how something like seeing death everyday could be taken in stride, but it made sense in that this was something they saw everyday. They had lives and interests outside of their business and this was just a facet of their routine.

In that sense, Tommy and Austin Tilden (played respectively by Brian Cox and Emile Hirsh), the father and son mortician team in André Øvredal’s The Autopsy of Jane Doe, are very relatable characters. Cox’s Tommy is a well-meaning father, one who depends on his son Austin to help with his business, but is too proud to admit it. Meanwhile, Austin is trying to pull away from the business and move away with his girlfriend Emma (Ophelia Lovibond), but is too afraid of disappointing his father to do so.

It is these two characters that form the heart of this film. As a viewer we have to be invested in them as believable and relatable characters for the film to work; since its the two of them on screen for almost all of the film’s running time. The chemistry between Hirsh and Cox is what keeps you invested in the film, along with solid writing behind the script by Ian B. Goldberg and Richard Naing. As the film begins, The two are presented with the body of an unidentified Jane Doe (Olwen Kelly) by the local sheriff, who needs a cause of death by morning. As they prepare the autopsy, they notice some oddities in this Jane Doe. She has no lividity or rigor mortis. From the outside, she is perfect and unblemished. However, once they begin the autopsy, the strangeness continues. She has lungs as if they were torched by flamed, scars on her heart and obliterated organs. Clearly, there is more to this Jane Doe than meets the eye. As the autopsy progresses. strange things begin to happen around them in the funeral home making the viewer wonder if this body is more than meets the eye.

The Autopsy of Jane Doe is a very unique horror film with an unusual hook that works because of the performances from all involved. Having the film’s antagonist portrayed as essentially being a possessed item is nothing new; there are definitely shades of Christine and The Amityville Horror in The Autopsy of Jane Doe. Olwen Kelly’s Jane shares almost every frame of the film with Cox and Hirsh and she definitely exerts a strong presence and performance in this affair through the clever use of lighting and the cinematography framing face and eyes from unusual angles and close-ups by director of photography Roman Osin. The film’s minimalist score by Danny Bensi and Saunder Jurriaans also contributes to building an increasing sense of tension and dread lending even more credence to the film’s dark and claustrophobic atmosphere. Øvredal creates something unique that feels old and familiar due to its strong structure and characterization; but that works on the level of something like Robert Eggers’ The Witch as a genre hybrid.


The Autopsy of Jane Doe is one the year’s best horror films and sure to be considered a standout unique horror film for years to come. Check this one out if you get a chance.