The Autopsy of Jane Doe (2016) Explained

An Average Movie-Goer’s Review

Spoilers! If you don’t want spoilers – check out the Spoiler-Free post

I love horror movies and if I’m going to watch them anyway, why not write an entertaining/funny review from the POV of an average movie-goer and not a professional critic.

Today we’re looking at 2016’s The Autopsy of Jane Doe

A father and son coroner team begin experiencing terrifying supernatural events when performing their latest autopsy on a mysterious Jane Doe.

Is The Autopsy of Jane Doe Scary?

The Autopsy of Jane Doe is TENSE. While there aren’t many jump scares, the film is a great showcase of building up suspense and intertwining it with an interesting mystery that will give you chills.

The film is also pretty gory but not in the 80s slasher sense, it’s a film about an autopsy and it doesn’t shy away from showing that process. So if you don’t like seeing a person flayed open, you might want to turn away at specific points of the film.

Overall you’ll leave The Autopsy of Jane Doe feeling a bit scared but mainly of old songs that randomly start playing on the radio.

The Autopsy of Jane Doe Full Plot Summary:

The film opens in Grantham, Virginia with police investigating a grizzly scene in what seems like a peaceful suburban neighborhood if you ignore all the dead bodies in that one house. In the said house, Sheriff Burke (Michael McElhatton) walks through the crime scene and sees multiple dead bodies all apparently shot.

One of the deputies tells Burke there were no signs of a break-in and oddly, it appears as if the family was trying to escape the house when they all killed each other despite nothing being locked. Burke then gets called to the basement where investigators have found a naked woman (Olwen Catherine Kelly) dead and half buried in the ground.

We cut to our main characters, father and son coroner team Tommy and Austin Tilden (Brian Cox and Emile Hirsch respectively) as they perform an autopsy on a burnt corpse. The movie does not shy away from showing you the process. 

We learn a few things as the camera pans around the basement morgue and crematorium; it’s connected to the family home, the Tildens have been the town’s coroners for generations, Austin is still in training, and Tommy only really cares about how someone died, unlike Austin who seems to show compassion for the dead.

After finishing up their latest autopsy, Tommy heads outside through the cellar doors for a smoke while Austin gets jump scared by Stanley, the family cat, popping out of a vent with a dead mouse. Continuing to be the movie’s punching bag, Austin gets jump scared again, this time by his girlfriend, Emma (Ophelia Lovibond), who shows up to pick him up for their date.

Before leaving, Emma asks to see a dead body which is a bit weird but no kink-shaming here. Austin refuses, saying that she won’t be able to unsee it and that his dad is too strict. Tommy shows up and basically says “fuck that, show her, let her learn the hard way.”

Austin pulls out a body from the morgue locker and we see it has a bell tied around the ankle. Tommy explains it was tradition to put a bell around a dead body just in case it wasn’t actually dead. Presumably, a corpse yelling “Hey stop, I’m alive!” wasn’t enough proof back in the old days.

After the history lesson, Austin and Emma leave for their date but, at the elevator, are met with Sheriff Burke and our Jane Doe from the house. 

Burke brings Jane Doe to the Tommy in 2016's The Autopsy of Jane Doe
“Hey, wanna see some weird shit?”

While Burke tells Tommy about Jane Doe, Austin convinces Emma to postpone their date a few hours so he can help his dad with the autopsy. Emma agrees to return later and Austin heads back to the basement. 

Burke says they need to find a cause of death by the morning as the media is aware of the multiple homicides and the only death he can’t explain is Jane Doe’s. After he leaves, the two coroners turn on a radio, a video camera, and get started.

The two find no outward signs of trauma but note that Jane’s eyes are cloudy which Tommy says means she’s been dead for days. Oddly, they point out, there are no signs of lividity, or blood pooling in the body, which should happen if Jane had actually been dead for days.

Adding to the strangeness they discover Jane’s wrists and ankles have been shattered, something that seems impossible without outward signs. Tommy then scrapes her fingernails and finds peat under them as well as in her hair. This leads him to believe she was buried in it, possibly hinting that she was originally buried up north.

Opening Jane’s mouth, they discover her tongue has been cut out and she’s missing a tooth. A fly also flies out of her nose, but the two don’t seem phased by this, so I assume it happens a lot.

Putting it all together, Tommy believes Jane Doe was a victim of human trafficking who was tortured before being killed. The theory is given further credence when he finds Jane has suffered vaginal trauma.

As a storm is heard approaching outside and the radio switches on its own to the song “Open Up Your Heart (And Let the Sunshine in)”, Tommy prepares to cut Jane open for the next part of the autopsy. Immediately after performing a Y cut on her torso, blood seeps out of the cut and Austin says what we’re all thinking, “She’s not supposed to bleed like that. Right?”.

Tommy responds that it usually only happens with fresh corpses which is not something I was hoping to learn today. Austin fills a collection tube with Jane’s blood and places it in the fridge but when returning to the fridge to place another sample, the blood has spilled out of the tube.

Meanwhile, Tommy removes Jane’s ribs and finds her lungs are completely black. Adding to the mystery, all of her organs, including her heart, have scar tissue as if they’ve been cut or stabbed in the past. Pointing out the obvious, Tommy says that whoever killed Jane wanted her to suffer.

After that “No Shit” revelation, the two coroners hear banging from the hallway and Austin elects to investigate. Through the reflection in the mirror, Austin sees someone standing in the hallway and that’s never a good sign when you’re not expecting company.

Austin sees a ghost in 2016's The Autopsy of Jane Doe
“Dad, the corpses got free again… wait a second…”

Austin peers around the corner but the person is gone and then he just carries on looking for what caused the banging like he didn’t just see a ghost. Meanwhile, Tommy attempts to continue the autopsy but accidentally cuts his hand with one of Jane’s ribs; he’s a professional. 

Back with Austin, he searches a stock room, hears sounds coming from the vent, and finds a fatally wounded Stanley inside, crying in pain. Tommy arrives and in an act of mercy, snaps Stanley’s neck killing him instantly. 

The two take Stanley to be cremated and we learn he belonged to Tommy’s late wife who died 2 years earlier. Though he is clearly distraught, Tommy refuses to talk about it and decides to continue the autopsy of Jane Doe. 

In her stomach, Tommy finds the flower Jimson Weed, a paralyzing agent that is commonly found up north.

The storm outside gets worse and Austin hears the radio announcer warn people of the danger it poses. Because of the warning and a growing unsettling feeling, Austin suggests they call it a night but Tommy is adamant on getting the job done.

Austin reluctantly agrees to continue the autopsy as Tommy pulls out another strange thing from Jane’s stomach. This time it’s a small bundle of cloth that when unraveled contains a tooth, some weird symbols, and the Roman numerals XVII.

Austin realizes the tooth in the cloth belongs to Jane and comes to believe Jane was a victim of a ritualistic killing and a human sacrifice. As soon as he makes this declaration, we hear the radio announcer state there is now a flash flood warning for the area. 

Austin wonders why Jane was murdered this way and Tommy declares that it doesn’t matter as it’s not their job. The two briefly argue about their ideals but Austin stops when he hears the radio announcer say in a menacing tone, “One thing is for sure, you’re not going anywhere.”

The radio switches back to the song “Open Up Your Heart (And Let the Sunshine in)” and Austin finally realizes shit ain’t right. Tommy doesn’t hear Austin suggest they leave and instead discovers something odd about Jane’s skin. With Austin’s help, the two peel back the first layer of skin on Jane’s torso and find the symbols on the cloth are also embedded in it.

Tommy and Austin find a sigil engraved in Jane's skin in 2016's The Autopsy of Jane Doe

Austin utters a muted “holy shit” and honestly it’s the best response someone can give besides running out of the room crying. One of the morgue lockers opens on its own and before anyone can say “fuck this” the lights in the room explode.

Turning on his phone light, Austin locates Tommy and they both notice all the morgue lockers are now open and the bodies are missing. Tommy finally agrees they should get the fuck out and the two rush to the elevator. The backup generator kicks in but there’s not enough power to get the elevator working. 

The two try to escape through the cellar doors but the storm has caused a large tree to land atop the doors. We also get the obligatory “21st-century no-cell service” scene as Austin tries to call for help but has lost all service. 

The two hear footsteps coming from the opposite end of the hall and because everyone else in the home is supposed to be dead, they run into the office and lock the door. Tommy calls Sheriff Burke using the landline but it dies before Burke can understand what’s going on. In the distance, Tommy and Austin then hear a bell jingling and getting closer.

Austin looks under the door and… wait what was the bell attached to earlier in the movie…?

The bell-zombie starts banging on the door to be let in but, knowing that it’s never smart to let a zombie in, Tommy and Austin barricade the door with a filing cabinet. Noticing the cut on his hand is bleeding, Tommy enters the bathroom to clean it as Austin proclaims that Jane is behind the supernatural going ons.

Tommy ignores his son because he’s a bit too busy wondering why the shower curtain is moving on its own. Austin looks over and sees a shadow behind the curtain, Tommy is grabbed and attacked by one of the dead bodies as the bathroom door slams shut. Because of how the scene is edited, we only see Tommy thrown against a wall, thrown on the ground, and a flash of a zombie with cloudy eyes.

Austin breaks open the door and finds Tommy alive but with a large bruise on his stomach and possibly some broken ribs. The two agree Jane is behind the bullshit and they carefully head back to the autopsy room to destroy Jane’s corpse.  

Tommy and Austin decide to return to the autopsy room in 2016's The Autopsy of Jane Doe
“Should we have grabbed a weapon before leaving that room?”

In the autopsy room, the two discover the organs they pulled out of Jane have rapidly decomposed but don’t notice the door closing on its own behind them. As the lock clicks Austin realizes they’re trapped and uses a fire axe to break a hole in the door but stops when he hears something approaching.

Through the hole, Tommy sees a corpse and Austin decides enough is enough. Grabbing acetone, he pours it all over Jane while Tommy pulls out his matches and sets her on fire. The fire immediately shoots out of Jane, covers the entire ceiling, and drops blobs of fire destroying the video camera.

The fire spreads to the ceiling in 2016's The Autopsy of Jane Doe
Maybe less acetone next time?

Tommy quickly starts putting out the fires around the room with a fire extinguisher and as he does, the fire on the ceiling and on Jane subsides. The two look over at Jane and are shocked her body shows no sign of damage. Just then, they hear the elevator in the distance and, after Austin grabs the axe, the two make their way to it.

The elevator dings and the two run but are too late to catch it. As Austin presses the button to call it back, Tommy hears the bell-zombie slowly approaching and grabs the axe. The elevator finally arrives and the two rush in but the doors get stuck leaving a gap wide enough for an axe to the face of bell-zombie.

The bell-zombie reaches the door and Tommy slams the axe down through the gap without looking. Austin checks to see if it’s dead but upon looking through the gap, discovers that it wasn’t the bell-zombie and instead it was Emma who had returned for their date. 

Austin rushes out to help her but she’s totally dead due to the axe to the chest.

It’s important to note that we, the audience, also saw the bell-zombie approaching meaning that Jane has the ability to create illusions and distort reality to some extent. 

The elevator dings and Tommy pulls a crying Austin into it so they can escape but, the elevator loses power as soon as it starts to move. A short time later the two are stuck in the elevator and we see Tommy’s bruise on his stomach getting worse.

Tommy refuses to let Austin take the blame for Emma’s death and finally opens up. It’s implied Austin’s mother (Tommy’s wife), always appeared happy but was in reality depressed which led to her death. Tommy blames himself for not seeing the signs and now accepts that their current situation is also his fault for not seeing the signs again.

Meanwhile, the cremation furnace turns on and the door opens allowing smoke to encompass the entire floor. We can assume this is Jane’s doing since the movie “subtly” hints at this by cutting back to Jane’s dead face twice.

Back in the elevator, Austin wonders why Jane hasn’t killed them yet and suggests that maybe she’s trying to prevent them from discovering something. Austin and Tommy decide to go back to the autopsy and hopefully by figuring out how Jane died, they’ll figure out how to stop her.

After surviving another attack from a corpse, the two make it back to the autopsy room and barricade the door. Austin quickly cuts open Jane’s head and takes a sample of her brain. Looking at it through a microscope, he lets out a “the fuck?” and at this point, it makes no sense for them to be surprised about anything.

Tommy takes a look and announces that Jane is actually still alive. Taking another look at the cloth from Jane’s stomach, Austin realizes that, if folded the right way, the markings spell out Leviticus 27 and is dated from 1693. As Tommy searches through a bible, Austin starts putting the pieces together; Jane is from the northeast, 17th century, New England.

Meanwhile, Tommy has found the bible entry and shows Austin what it says. If you haven’t figured it out, don’t worry the movie quite literally spells it out for you.

Tommy and Austin discover Jane is a witch in 2016's The Autopsy of Jane Doe

Tommy says witches are a myth but concludes that Jane must have been thought a witch and tortured for it. Believing Jane was a witch, those in the 17th century performed a ritual to kill witches but by performing it on an innocent person, they instead created one.

Tommy adds that Jane can feel everything they’ve done to her and wants them to feel it too. Lifting up his shirt, he reveals the bruising on his stomach now has the appearance of the markings on the cloth and in Jane’s skin. Austin questions why Jane is doing this to them and Tommy says because they were there, Jane is looking for revenge on anyone, no matter who it is. DUN DUN DUNNNN

Just as Tommy comes to a revelation, the corpses start banging on the door and Austin rushes to the door to hold it closed. Tommy leans into Jane and offers himself as a sacrifice as long as she doesn’t hurt Austin.

The banging suddenly stops, thunder sounds, and Tommy cries out in pain. Unfortunately for Tommy, being a sacrifice means he has to endure all the pain Jane has felt but, we see this also heals Jane. 

Tommy’s wrist and ankles shatter, he breathes out smoke implying his lungs are now black, and we see all of Jane’s wounds, including the Y cut and the scar tissue on her organs, heal implying Tommy’s organs are being stabbed from within. Finally, Tommy’s eyes go white as Jane’s eyes regain their color.

Tommy attempts to reach for a scalpel on the ground and Austin realizes he wants to use it to end his life. Tommy begs Austin to do it and Austin reluctantly stabs his father in the heart. Moments later the lights turn on, the morgue lockers appear untouched, and Austin hears Sheriff Burke calling out to him from outside the cellar doors.

As Austin gets to the cellar doors, Burke says they finished cutting the tree blocking the door and he should be able to open it now. Austin attempts to open the doors but they still appear stuck. Burke yells out to “open up” and then starts singing “Open Up Your Heart (And Let the Sunshine in)” causing Austin to realize that this is another certified Jane illusion.

Austin hears the bell-zombie and looks over the railing but doesn’t see it. Turning back around, a dead Tommy suddenly appears causing Austin to jump back in fear and fall over the railing to his death.

The next morning Burke and other officers arrive and find Austin and Tommy dead. As he enters the Autopsy room, we hear the radio describe the weather as “the 4th straight day of sunshine” implying that the storm was just another Jane illusion.

Discovering a fully healed but still “dead” Jane on the autopsy table, Burke tells his deputy to transport her to another county as he wants nothing to do with her. A short time later a deputy is transporting Jane when the radio in the van starts playing “Open Up Your Heart (And Let the Sunshine In)”. The film ends as we see one of Jane’s toes twitch.

Did Emma Die in The Autopsy of Jane Doe?

The Autopsy of Jane Doe answers almost any question you might have by the end, sometimes holding your hand too much, but one question I had at the end was Emma’s fate. Interestingly it appears that Emma’s death didn’t actually happen and was just an illusion. 

In the end, we briefly see the crime scene unit walking along where Emma’s body should have been and there doesn’t appear to be anybody there. A bigger piece of evidence proving that Emma is still alive is the blood on Austin’s shirt. 

After Emma’s “death”, Austin is covered in her blood but after his death and after Jane ends her illusions, there’s no blood on his shirt (see the final screenshots in the recap above). Also after Jane’s body is placed in the van to be transported, we only see two other bodies removed from the house, those being Austin’s and Tommy’s. There is no indication or mention of Emma being dead or a victim.

The Autopsy of Jane Doe Spoiler Review:

The Autopsy of Jane Doe is great. The acting is top notch which is a good thing since there are really only three characters with lines in the movie.

But the best part about the film is the amount of tension you’ll feel watching it. It does a brilliant job of putting you on the edge of your seat for two reasons. One, every scene builds on the tension and suspense created by the last, and two the cause of Jane Doe’s death is a genuinely intriguing mystery. 

Does the movie dip in quality once the mystery is solved? A bit and I mean a tiny bit especially since it’s at the very end when the pieces are put together. One criticism I did have was the need for the film to overexplain what was going on. The witch revelation was done in a way where the movie was basically saying “Hey, did you all hear, Jane’s a witch. You heard that? Witch…. Witch.”

This isn’t a big deal but it makes me wonder why that and Jane’s motivations were overexplained but then Emma’s death was left for the audience to figure out.

Another thing that felt out of place was Tommy’s character arc. He’s affected by his wife’s death but we don’t really see that and sure we don’t need to see it from him but Austin only mentions it once before Tommy finally opens up about it. So it felt like a shoe-horned in character growth instead of an earned moment when he finally admits that he should have not ignored the signs.

Either way, these are small nitpicks that won’t ruin your enjoyment of a genuinely good horror movie. I highly recommend giving The Autopsy of Jane Doe a watch.


Stuff to Ignore

Rotten Tomatoes – 86%

Metacritic – 65

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