The Autopsy of Jane Doe (2016) — A body that tells an impossible fate

“You can’t kill someone this way without leaving a trace on the outside. She doesn’t even have a broken nail.”

Justin’s rating: Don’t think I would have won the round of Clue that this was based on

Justin’s review: I’d have to imagine that to be a really good medical coroner, you’d have to have a streak of detective inside of you. It’s all about figuring out — or confirming — a cause of death without getting distracted by all of the red herrings and false leads.

Father and son coroner team Austin (Emile Hirsch) and Tommy (Brian Cox) clearly relish their role as post-mortem detectives — not to mention relish hanging out together in their unusual workspace. But all of their skills and all of their assumptions are going to be put to the test when the local sheriff brings them a “Jane Doe” who was found half-buried in the basement of a murder scene.

Who is she? How did she die? They’ve got one night to figure it out so that the sheriff can make an announcement to the press in the morning.

As they begin the autopsy during this (of course) dark and stormy night, Tommy and Austin treat it like any run of the mill mystery. This changes the more they find inexplicable internal wounds, carved messages, and a pristine exterior. Some signs point to a body that’s been dead for a while, others to a very fresh demise. She has peat under her toenails, a body frame that points to a corset wearer, and lungs that are burned to a crisp. To make matters worse, really strange stuff starts happening in and around the morgue, turning it into a haunted house of sorts.

So obviously the question isn’t as simple as what killed her. The real question is, what will these two need to discover and do to survive until sunrise? All of it comes down to Jane Doe and what her body contains. And I wanted Tommy and Austin to make it, because we don’t get this kind of father/son dynamic too often in movies, especially coupled with their professional working relationship.

The Autopsy of Jane Doe is one of those movies that kicks off with an arresting first half that promises an even better second, only to struggle with the answers and escalations that are required to follow. I really liked the mystery aspect of a seemingly impossible corpse — kind of like a locked room mystery of a sort — but then it felt like the movie had to try to throw in scares and blood as a resolution instead of more of this intelligent deduction.

It’s the kind of story that I could see easily dripping from the pen of Stephen King into a novella, perhaps working better on the page than on the screen. It’s still quite good, provided that you can stomach the macabre material.

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