Film Review: The Autopsy of Jane Doe, Richly Textured and Truly Terrifying

Photograph courtesy of IFC Midnight
Photograph courtesy of IFC Midnight

The richly textured and truly terrifying The Autopsy of Jane Doe has been impressing festival audiences for months now and has slowly been creeping its way across the country since late December. The film comes courtesy of director Andre Ovredal, the Norwegian filmmaker who gave us the 2010 cult hit Trollhunter, and it centers on a father-son team of coroners (Brian Cox and Emile Hirsch), who work together in their rather retro-looking morgue on the bodies of the recently deceased. Things get weird when they take on a Jane Doe (Olwen Kelly), who has apparently been murdered, although there are no signs of any obvious trauma. But as the pair begin their morbid work, her body reveals to them a horrifying story that takes them from the familiar world of the dead into the world of something beyond death.

Cox brings a familiar but note-perfect version of his usual brand of professionalism and authority as Tommy Tilden, with Hirsch adding a tinge of rebellion and even boredom in son Austin, who has long-term plans with his girlfriend Emma (Ophelia Lovibond) that he hasn’t worked up the courage to tell his father about. But none of that really matters as the autopsy gets more detail oriented and things in their workplace begin to resemble a nightmare. Screenwriters Ian Goldberg and Richard Naing have constructed a tightly wound, beautifully paced, and utterly terrifying bundle of darkness that doesn’t forget to inject its characters with enough personality to make us care whether they live or die.

If you were afraid that the horror offerings were going to trail off in terms of quality in 2017, The Autopsy of Jane Doe (which technically is a 2016 release, I know) should set your mind at ease. Director Ovredal is the real deal, and this is a great, genuinely scary work.

The film opens today at the Music Box Theatre. You can also rent it digitally on iTunes, Amazon, Playstation, and Google.

To read my exclusive interview with The Autopsy of Jane Doe star Emile Hirsch, go to Ain’t It Cool News.

Steve Prokopy
Steve Prokopy

Steve Prokopy is chief film critic for the Chicago-based arts outlet
Third Coast Review. For nearly 20 years, he was the Chicago editor for
Ain’t It Cool News, where he contributed film reviews and
filmmaker/actor interviews under the name “Capone.” Currently, he’s a
frequent contributor at /Film ( and Backstory Magazine.
He is also the public relations director for Chicago's independently
owned Music Box Theatre, and holds the position of Vice President for
the Chicago Film Critics Association. In addition, he is a programmer
for the Chicago Critics Film Festival, which has been one of the
city's most anticipated festivals since 2013.

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