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Film / The Autopsy of Jane Doe

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Every body has a secret.

The Autopsy of Jane Doe is a 2016 American horror film directed by André Øvredal of The Troll Hunter fame and starring Emile Hirsch and Brian Cox.

One day, the police investigate a particularly gruesome and mysterious murder case, but the most intriguing element is the corpse of an unknown woman discovered in the basement. The same night, the local coroners Tommy Tilden and his son Austin are tasked with performing an autopsy on that same woman, given the name "Jane Doe" for the time being, in their underground morgue in order to uncover the cause of death.

As they perform the autopsy on Jane Doe, the corpse becomes more and more puzzling and supernatural events threatening their lives begin to occur in their morgue. Trapped, Tommy and Austin struggle to survive the night with Jane Doe.

Not to be confused with The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman, a very different film.

Due to the nature of the film, spoilers will be difficult to avoid. You Have Been Warned.

The Autopsy of Jane Doe contains examples of:

  • Accidental Murder: Tommy kills Emma thinking she was one of the corpses out for him.
  • Anachronism Stew: The song "Open up Your Heart (and Let the Sunshine in)" composed and published in 1954, is nonetheless somewhat associated with a woman who lived and has died in the 17th Century who shouldn't know about the song at all.
  • And I Must Scream: The core reason everything bad is happening in the film: Jane was tortured in a ceremony intended to kill witches. Instead she can never truly die, and will forever take revenge upon anyone who encounters her. Also, Jane is not only aware of her surroundings, yet unable to move, but she can feel everything that is done to her during the autopsy.
  • Arc Words: "Sunshine". Jane's spirit likes to make the radio play the overwhelmingly optimistic song "Let the Sunshine In", Tommy talks to his son about how his mother Ray was nicknamed such to be short for "ray of sunshine" despite being suicidally depressed under the surface, and the radio at the end of the film says the weather has been several consecutive days of sunshine despite the characters experiencing a storm. This likely ties into a theme of unnatural pleasantness being an almost impenetrable way to obscure genuinely dark issues, paralleled by Jane being impossibly untouched on the surface while hiding bizarre and horrific wounds.
  • Artistic License – History: See Of Corset Hurts below; as Jane is from the Salem witch hunts, she would have worn stays in life, not a corset, leaving aside the extent to which a corset could even actually do that.
  • Ate His Gun: One of the bodies in the morgue. Subverted, as the extensive examination revealed that someone used strychnine and then staged the already dead body to look like a suicide.
  • Beauty Is Never Tarnished: Played for creepiness in that case, as Jane Doe's body is unnaturally preserved and devoid of external bruises or marks. The "beauty" of the corpse contrasts even more with the discovery of the corpse's gruesome internal traumas. A final unnerving instance of it occurs when in the last moments of the movie, when the police investigate the morgue following the deaths of the Tildens and the corpse is shown to be perfectly intact, which we saw resulting from the transfer of her injuries to Tommy.
  • Bloody Horror: Several ways. The opening crime scene where Jane's body is found entails lots of blood, though ironically, none on her. Also, her body bleeds during the autopsy in ways it really shouldn't. Also, organs and blood samples previously placed in the morgue fridge start producing enough blood to leak out and cause a puddle beneath.
  • Bottle Episode: The entire film takes place in the Tilden morgue, with few external shots.
  • Buried Alive: Due to the ritual performed on her, Jane is not truly dead, and outwardly her body is perfectly preserved. She is discovered half-dug out of a basement floor.
  • Cat Scare: Stanley the cat wanders inside the air vents of the morgue to hunt mice. He inevitably startles Austin when the later checks a suspicious noise inside an air vent.
  • Central Theme: Accepting something that looks good on the surface may cause you to miss out on serious dark issues, tied into the Arc Words of "sunshine". Jane Doe is a corpse who appears perfect and unharmed on the surface, but internally, very much is wrong with her, and her spirit must be calmed by the coroners fully discovering the pain she suffered and offering relief. Her spirit causes the pro-positivity "Let the Sunshine In" to play on radios as an apparent ironic statement as Jane herself has suffered greatly. Tommy discusses how Austin's mom Ray had a lot of pain going on underneath the "sunshine" personality she projected to the world, and he deeply regrets not being able to see the depression she lived with until her suicide. Lastly, the radio at the end says it's been several days of sunshine when from the protagonists' perspective, a horrendous storm was going on at the time of the autopsy, indicating that the darkness they uncovered and experienced wasn't noticed by anybody else and Jane may continue to suffer in sunshine henceforth.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Tommy is a traditionalist, and ties a bell around the ankle of poisoning victims or others who may be comatose rather than dead. Then the bell is heard in the hallway.
  • Creepy Basement: Zigzagged, as the Tildens' basement is a well-kept and neat underground facility, but at the same time, it’s a morgue.
  • Cruel and Unusual Death: Jane was apparently tortured to death - her ankles and wrists are broken, her tongue is cut out, and she suffocated from inhalation of smoke, followed by a brutal ritual performed over her in the process. She has a tattoo on the inside of her skin. She later subjects Tommy to the same torture.
  • Downer Ending: None of the main characters survive to the end, and now Jane is being taken elsewhere, no doubt where she'll terrorize more people.
  • Dramatically Missing the Point: Tommy and Austin get proof of the supernatural being involved and Jane Doe being likely one of the so-called accused witches from Salem. Tommy makes a deal with her to take on her suffering if she lets Austin live. However, he then asks Austin to mercy kill him to spare him of the pain he is currently going through. Thus missing the point that this is not experiencing the suffering that Jane Doe did and resulting in her killing Austin anyway.
  • Driving Question: "Who is Jane Doe and how did she die?" It's the Tildens' job as coroners to investigate a corpse's cause of death, and when they don't try to survive, they investigate the circumstances of Jane Doe's death. They discover that Jane Doe is a woman from New England who was tortured in a ritual designed against witches and who has persisted since as a result of it.
  • Drop Dead Gorgeous: Jane Doe's corpse spends the whole movie naked.
  • Eerie Pale-Skinned Brunette: Just look at the movie poster.
  • Empathic Environment: As the plot progresses, the weather is getting worse and worse, with a serious storm raging outside. None of it was real and as it turns out, it's a fourth day in a row of sunny, rainless weather.
  • Evil-Detecting Dog: Stanley the cat growls at Jane Doe's corpse the moment he sees her, but Tommy shrugs it off as the cat being mean.
  • Exactly What It Says on the Tin: The film almost entirely focuses on the titular autopsy performed on the body of an unidentified woman.
  • Facial Horror: One of the corpses currently residing in the Tilden's morgue had his face blown off with a shotgun.
  • Family Business: Austin is a third generation of Tildens running local morgue and crematory. He wants to leave it, but feels he needs to take care for his father, who is still struggling after Mrs Tilden's death.
  • Fan Disservice: The Irish model Olwen Kelly exposes her body to play Jane Doe, but the clinical approach of the Tildens and the fact that a beautiful corpse is still a corpse probably destroys any arousal the public may have.
  • Fearsome Foot: Austin and Tommy hear the bells of the corpse approaching the office in which they hide, and Tommy cannot stop himself from looking through the bottom slit. He manages to catch of glimpse of one of the corpses' feet just as they try to break in.
  • Finger-Twitching Revival: The very last scene of the movie shows Jane's toe twitching, which may indicate that she will be up and walking fully alive soon.
  • Flat-Earth Atheist: Tommy keeps trying to rationalize everything that's happening and deny that supernatural forces are at work long after it's clear that there is no scientific explanation for what is going on.
  • Flies Equals Evil: One of the first unusual things encountered by the Tildens is a fly making its way out of Jane Doe's right nostril.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • Jane Doe's compressed stomach which Austin speculates was caused by a corsets hints that Jane is from a time when corsets would normally be worn, and the blood coming out of Jane Doe's body hints that she is still alive.
    • Right as the Tildens are about to start their internal examination, the radio starts to play the sound of a woman screaming. Jane Doe is a witch with illusion abilities who is not only still alive but aware of what's around her.
    • After his cat is found in the air vent with strange, crippling injuries, Tommy euthanizes it to put it out of its misery. Much the same thing happens to Tommy when he begs Austin to kill him after Jane Doe's powers break his arms, legs, and crush his rib cage.
  • Genre Blindness: Zig-Zagged. Both Tildens consider it a job as always, so they ignore initially weird things, trying to dig deeper into the mystery instead. But when things go way beyond of what can be described as "normal" or even "weird", they quickly try to leave the morgue.
  • Genre Savvy: Sheriff Burke decides to send the body away from his county after having two unexplainable murder scenes combined with freak accidents, both related to the same dead body of an unidentified woman.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Tommy makes a deal with Jane Doe’s corpse. Thinking that she wants to take out her anger on them, Tommy offers to suffer everything she’s suffered and begs Jane to let Austin be. It becomes a Senseless Sacrifice because after Tommy is mercy killed due to being unable to bare it, Jane Doe then kills Austin.
  • High-Pressure Blood: When Tommy cuts up Jane's corpse, a large amount of blood begins to flow from the incision despite it being impossible, as blood would have clotted and accumulated in the bottom of the corpse. He notes it's weird, but at this point has no other clues, so he continues with the autopsy.
  • Hope Spot:
    • The Tildens leave the morgue room without any issues and go directly to the doors. Unfortunately, due to a heavy storm, a nearby tree has blocked the doors.
    • The elevator suddenly comes down. But it barely moves few inches up before the power dies back again.
    • Zig-Zagged with the Cruel Twist Ending. Apparently "Jane" kept her word to bargain Tommy's life to let Austin go free and unharmed. He goes to the door, the sheriff is already there, clearing the tree, and you might think everything's going to be (relatively) okay... but then you realize that everyone who could have explained why Tommy's fingerprints are all over two murder weapons is now dead, making you think the movie's about to end with Tommy getting framed for committing double homicide... and then the sheriff starts singing "Open up your heart"....
  • Human Sacrifice: It quickly becomes apparent someone performed a ritual murder on "Jane". By the end of the film, she took Tommy's life as a form of sacrifice.
  • Jump Scare: A few. On the other hand, all of them are highly telegraphed and bar one, they aren't all that jumpy.
  • Locked Room Mystery:
    • The initial crime scene has this problem with all victims apparently trying to get out of their own house, which was locked and nobody tampered with the locks. By the end of it, Sheriff Burke has another such mystery, barely 12 hours apart.
    • Invoked and discussed during initial phase of the autopsy, when Tommy compares the damage done to internal organs with a bullet found inside a brain, but with no point of entry.
  • It's All My Fault: While hiding in the elevator, Tommy confesses to his son that he blames himself for not catching onto the signs of his deceased wife's suicidal tendencies in time to save her life. He also states that it's his own fault for not recognizing the events surrounding Jane's autopsy for what they were in time to spare himself and Austin of the mortal danger they were in.
  • The Lost Lenore: Austin's mother Ray died before the film takes place.
  • The Living Dead: Strikingly averted; model Olwen Kelly plays Jane's corpse very convincingly, completely nude at that, and is never seen breathing. Of course, it's hinted that Jane may not exactly be dead.
  • Master of Illusion: Hinted to be the gist of Jane Doe’s witchcraft. When the police investigate the death of the Tildens, none of the damage seemingly inflicted by the corpse is apparent and the radio announces its fourth consecutive day of sunshine while the Tildens had heard a storm warning earlier.
  • Mercy Kill:
    • When Stanley the cat is found badly wounded in the air vent, Tommy holds him and snaps his neck to end his suffering.
    • Because Tommy has agreed to suffer the torture inflicted on Jane Doe, Austin resorts to stab him with a scalpel to spare him any further pain.
  • Minimalism: The film is shot entirely within a single building, using thee sets — the house, the basement containing the morgue (where most of the action happens) and the initial murder scene was in fact shot in the upper floor of the house. The cast is just as sparse, with most of the film focusing on interactions of the two protagonists.
  • Mouth Stitched Shut: One of the corpses in the Tilden morgue has both her eyes and mouth stitched shut. The stitches are then torn when the body tries to moan.
  • Murder by Mistake: Tommy ends up killing Emma with a hatchet, being perfectly sure he's attacking the corpse with the bell tied to its toe.
  • Murder Into Malevolence: Discussed. Tommy questions whether Jane Doe was something supernatural before the torturous ritual murder she endured, or whether the ordeal caused her to be trapped as an undying monster.
  • Neck Snap: After Stanley the cat is found gutted inside a vent, Tommy twists its head around to end its suffering.
  • Never Suicide: Only due to the coroner work of the Tildens it was possible to reveal an apparent suicide as a deliberate poisoning then staged as a suicide.
  • No Ontological Inertia: Every body part taken out of Jane Doe’s corpse rots rapidly because the corpse acts as a time capsule preserving everything inside it since the 17th Century.
  • Nothing Is Scarier:
    • The classic version happens a lot because the power fails regularly, plunging the characters in the dark, but they can still hear the bells they hung on the morgue’s corpses ringing as they approach.
    • We never see what happens to Tommy in the dark or who/what is doing it when he's attacked by what appear to be reanimated corpses from his morgue. We only see him badly cut and bruised when Austin finds him afterwards.
  • Of Corset Hurts: "Jane's" unnaturally thin waist is eventually attributed to prolonged use of a corset, including deformed lower ribs.
  • Ominous Fog: The incinerator’s fire produces a thick smoke invading the hallway just as the Tildens decide to finish investigating the witch’s corpse; in the smoke, the corpses attack Tommy.
  • Ominous Music Box Tune: The cheerful "Open up Your Heart" is heavily tied to the supernatural phenomenon happening around the corpse.
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: "Jane Doe" is the alias given to the nameless woman on whom Tommy and Austin perform an autopsy. In fact, "Jane Doe" is a codename for a woman whose name is officially unknown.
  • Peek-a-Boo Corpse: Austin tries to hack his way out of the exam room, and peering through the hole he's made in the door, encounters one — and it's still moving.
  • Plot-Triggering Death: The inexplicable death of several people inside a house lead to further investigation. When Sheriff Burke finds another unsolved case inside the Tilden morgue, he instantly decides to send Jane's body outside his jurisdiction.
  • Precision F-Strike: Tommy continues with the autopsy and remains unfazed by the initial weirdness. In fact, he's getting more and more curious with each new discovery, ignoring Austin's increasing fear. But the moment the lights are blown up, power is cut and most importantly, the morgue's freezer is suddenly empty of three bodies stored there, he quickly concludes the show is over.
    Tommy: (deadpan) Let's get the fuck out of here.
  • Primal Fear: The film focuses on the squick a dead body will inevitably create just by being around. Worse is that the autopsy requires a healthy amount of Bloody Horror but what takes that cake is the corpses themselves don't act naturally during the movie.
  • Rasputinian Death: Jane Doe has suffered a good number of wounds before dying. Austin gets to examine a brain sample and discovers that Jane Doe is still somewhat “alive” despite looking dead.
    Tommy: Imagine all this internal trauma was reflected externally. Shattered ankles and wrists, fire-burned lungs, scarred organs. What would it look like?
    Austin: She'd be mangled.
  • Red Herring: Initially, a lot of things suggest that "Jane" is a vampire someone tried to kill using all the most traditional ways possible, including breaking her wrists and ankles to make the body unable to leave the grave. The truth is much more complicated.
  • Riddle for the Ages:
    • What happened in the house where the body of Jane Doe was found. The theory provided by Sheriff Burke is after all an educated guess.
    • Was "Jane" really innocent or an actual witch? Both options are possible.
  • Salem Is Witch Country: The peat and Jimson Weed indicating that she's from the North of the United States, and the apparent ties to witchcraft, lead to the Tilden discovering that she may have been a witch from New England.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here: Not one to live in denial, Tommy says, "Let's get the fuck outta here," at the first undeniable sign of supernatural goings on (though it's debatable whether he could have recognized it much sooner).
  • Seen It All: What differs the Tildens from typical horror protagonists is how they are both hardened morgue workers. Dead bodies and weird things with them really don't bother them that much, especially in case of Tommy, who has twice as much work experience as his son. They remain collected until the very end, even if things definitely go past the point of what they've already seen in their lives.
  • Soundtrack Dissonance: "Open up Your Heart", a cheerful song (with still quite creepy lyrics) is associated with the malevolent Jane Doe.
  • Southern Gothic: Subtle, very low-key, but still present on all levels of the story and the setting. Also, the dialogues treat American Northeast as some sort of far away land, while the story takes place in Virginia.
  • Stupid Evil: Jane Doe. By the end of the movie, Tommy and Austin have figured out that she is alive and sentient and can feel everything done to her, have figured out a large chunk of her history, and even succeed in communicating with her. Then she kills them both, eliminating the two people who could've prevented her from experiencing any further trauma, and thus ensuring she'll most likely go through another agonizing autopsy at the very least before anyone else figures those same things out, provided she doesn't kill them, too.
  • Tongue Trauma: Jane's tongue was apparently torn off.
  • We Hardly Knew Ye: Emma appears in grand total of two scenes and her appearances bear almost no relation to the main plot. In her second scene, she's dying already.
  • Wicked Witch: Jane Doe might have been one in life.
  • Woobie, Destroyer of Worlds: It's unclear whether Jane Doe is one or not, but Tommy asserts that she is, on account of the lack of any real witchcraft during the Salem witch trials, and believing that the ritual used against her actually turned her into a witch.
  • You Have GOT to Be Kidding Me!: After the body of "Jane" is set ablaze, both Austin and Tommy watch in disbelief as the flames damage everything but the body.