The Autopsy of Jane Doe

(Andre Øvredal, 9 September 2016)

“Whatever the hell happened in here…we are way past possible.”

Reframing André Øvredal’s THE AUTOPSY OF JANE DOE in a context to aptly serve as a fitting installment with which to celebrate Women in Horror Month is not difficult. Although our primary characters are a father and son team of small-town coroners (portrayed brilliantly — and believably — by Brian Cox and Emile Hirsch), it is in many ways a tale of a controlled and silenced woman, an innocent put to death by patriarchal and Puritanical forces who, though dead and seemingly inert on the proverbial slab, has returned as an inimical force of supernatural vengeance.

The titular Jane Doe (in a silent and still, but irrevocably magnetic, performance from Irish actress, Olwen Kelly) is a revenant in every sense of the word, and as her mystery unfolds, so too does her understandable wrath…especially if, as viewers we are aware of the culpable transgressions perpetrated by the Massachusetts Bay colonies of Salem and the surrounding areas (as well as the events of Early Modern Europe which both precede and parallel the events in the New World) whose fear of femininity and sexuality were among some of the myriad reasons for the crying out and subsequent torture of alleged witches. But re-contextualizing the film somewhat and examining it with eyes firmly couched in the recent paradigm shift of women’s narratives — or rather all voices that have been historically ignored — actually being listened to with the hopes of social change, grants us the opportunity to see the film in, perhaps, a more poignant light. Jane Doe’s body is a mysterious map of abuse and torture; she has been bound, stripped nude, burned, silenced by the removal of her tongue, and buried…and yet she still supernaturally tells her story; she refuses to be a voice unheard or a story untold. Ebert critic Brian Tallerico once suggested that Øvredal’s film is “basically a great haunted house movie — the house just happens to be the morgue,” and yet the film may be so much more than that, whether we deal in metaphors or not. Rich in atmospheres and some intensely powerful sequences, we proudly include THE AUTOPSY OF JANE DOE in our celebratory #wihm MAVENS series…it is, after all, the story of a woman with a story to tell.

Tallerico, Brian. “Review: The Autopsy of Jane Doe.”, Accessed 23 Feb. 2019.