The Autopsy of Jane Doe (2016)

The Autopsy of Jane Doe
Director: André Øvredal
Writer: Ian B. Goldberg, Richard Naing
Cast: Brian Cox, Emile Hirsch, Ophelia Lovibond, Michael McElhatton, Olwen Catherine Kelly
Part of: /slash Filmfestival
Seen on: 6.5.2017
[Review by cornholio.]

Tommy (Brian Cox) and his son Austin (Emile Hirsch) work together as coroners. One night, they get the body of a young woman (Olwen Catherine Kelly) that was just found and suspected to be a homicide victim, although there was no clear indication for the cause of her death. As Tommy and Austin get to work quickly, so the police can face the press with an update in the morning, they realize that something is very strange with that body indeed.

The Autopsy of Jane Doe was tense, effective and well-acted – and had such a stupid ending and was so infuriating in its depiction of women that it almost ruined the film entirely for me. But up until those last 20 minutes, I really enjoyed it.


The film starts off well enough, building a nice sense for the characters and quite a lot of tension. Hirsch and Cox imbue their father-son relationship with the warmth and weight of many years – it’s astounding really that they aren’t father and son in real life.

So, The Autopsy of Jane Doe really had all the necessary groundwork to tell a great story. And then they started to solve the mystery around the body and I just wanted to scream – from frustration, maybe the worst kind of screaming a movie can produce in its audience.

As it turns out, Jane Doe isn’t actually dead, or not quite so. She was prosecuted as a witch in the Salem witch trials, which meant she was brutally tortured. That torture basically turned her into a witch and she’s somehow still alive inside that body. And she is starting to lash out, indiscriminately inflicting her pain on the people around her.

And as far as witch storylines are concerned, which are problematic more often than not, at least she doesn’t prove the usual misogynistic stereotypes surrounding witches right, but dammit, you don’t make a film that is somehow trying to make a feminist point and then remove all agency from the only woman that gets featured more prominently. Jane Doe (no, she never gets a name) spends the film without moving a muscle (save the very last scene), naked (young and pretty, of course, albeit never sexualized, at least), as two men – who are definitely nice guys who get our sympathy – work on her body. Even the power that is unleashed through her doesn’t feel like a power she really controls. It may work for her, but it seems to make its own decisions – that’s how little agency she gets in the film. It makes her both victim and threat at the same time, but it never makes her a person.

And I hated that turn of events. I was deeply uncomfortable with that portrayal. I can imagine that this story could have been quite something in the hands of a woman who did her feminist thinking, but like this it is mostly infuriating.

Summarizing: If it wasn’t for that ending, I might have liked it.

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