The Autopsy of Jane Doe is about a father and a son, Tommy and Austin, who are coroners working in the morgue and is in charge of the autopsy of corpses. They encounter a body, named Jane Doe, found in the basement of a house owned by a family who was slaughtered or murdered as shown in the first parts of the movie.
As they unravel or analyse the body, they are puzzled with their findings. The body seems to be perfectly intact and although her joints were shattered, there were no signs of bruises or restraints in these parts. She was missing a tooth and her tongue was cut off. Opening her body, they see the lungs and insides to be burnt and Tommy says that this is not from smoking. Tommy follows this up by stating that a person who has insides like this would have third degree burns outside but as said earlier, her body was pretty much intact. They also found some cloth and a flower inside her body. The flower came from a far place, particularly the place where the Salem witch trials were. The cloth contained her tooth and some inscriptions. Throughout this process, strange things kept happening simultaneously such as the radio changing stations by itself, the storm worsening, and the blood sample of Jane doe exploding in the fridge.
I have this habit of guessing what will happen next during horror movies so that I could prepare myself to get scared. I speculated that she was a victim of someone who practiced demonic rituals because I watch the series Supernatural and usually instances or cases wherein a tooth is wrapped in cloth with inscriptions involves a ritual to a demon but it was my first time to see that the inscriptions were also beneath her skin and it was the most creepy part. I instantly felt that this Jane Doe was more powerful than she looks, although throughout the movie she didn’t move or bat an eyelash. However, at some point, I was expecting that throughout the process of her autopsy, she would get up and be the one to do the killing. Instead she made use of her powers and uses the corpses which was the most creepy part because of the bell, signifying that the corpse was near them.
I didn’t quite enjoy the build up to the climax because I was impatient to find out what is her problem or what the result of her autopsy is and why did the family die in the house shown in the first part but it was necessary to prolong the people’s suspense. Also, the silence in the movie added more to the suspense the audience is feeling especially when they were in the hallway and they suddenly hear the bell ringing, although I kind of guessed that it would somehow happen when he was explaining each of the corpses to his girlfriend.
In Robin Wood’s, The American Nightmare: Horror in the 70s, he discusses the concept of the “Other”, “Othering”, or “Otherness” which is fitting for this movie because as explained in the movie, Jane Doe was treated as an other. As explained in the movie, she was tortured during her time, explaining the findings they had of her body, which made her a witch and she is now wanting revenge. During the movie, she was again treated as an other because Tommy and Austin just considered her as a corpse, it was just them working on another job. “Othering” talks about objectifying people and this involves repressing them.
Robin Wood describes “othering” as something dangerous and it is still evident in our time with regard to the Muslim community and LGBTQ+ community. “Othering” is about repressing something that is out of the ordinary to preserve civilization. People have this attitude of outcasting, judging, or criticizing something that is not familiar to them. For example, when you are in a clique, and someone enters into a relationship and he/she tries to introduce that person into your group, often times conflicts arise between the group because some of them are not in favour of the person.
This is what happened to Jane Doe in the movie. In her time, witches were repressed and it did not help that they were women too as women are often repressed by society. Wood talks about female sexuality or creativity and ethnic groups within the culture often being repressed. Female sexuality is repressed because females are expected to be passive and have a dependent role in our culture. The explanation of this in the movie gives us opportunity to sympathize with the monster because often times, the monsters are an emotional center, stories would explain why they do the things they do as a movie progresses.
This concept of otherness also contributes to what Wood call as the basic formula for horror movies because it is about normality being threatened by the monster. In the movie, we are shown a body that is unexplainable because it is supposed to be a corpse but then they discover that the body is still alive and although it is considered alive, the body doesn’t move. Instead, it was the corpses who were able to move.
The movie ends with Tommy sacrificing himself to Jane Doe, in an attempt to save Austin, and thinking that it would end everything. As Wood said, the “other” would be destroyed through the destruction of patriarchy. After the sacrifice, we see that Jane Doe’s wounds heal and think that maybe this is the end of her curse and revenge and that it would be passed to Tommy as he had promised to take on her burden.
Towards the end of the movie, where Austin was about to be saved, a lot of questions were on my mind. How would he explain everything to the cops? Would he be imprisoned for killing all of them? Would he be sent to a mental hospital? Austin’s almost escape was the most chilling scene for me because at this point, everything was supposed to be calm because the monster was “defeated” already. Instead, we get another plot twist wherein it was a false voice outside. Turns out, the storm was also part of the imagination and that explains why her girlfriend was able to go to their house easily despite the “raging” storm outside.
Also, I feel that Tommy’s sacrifice was sort of useless because although he was thinking that he was being heroic being able to save his son, he became part of Jane Doe’s victims as shown in the last part wherein the bell rang and the radio switched stations, which implies that she will just move on and victimize other people.
Robin Wood, ‘The American Nightmare: Horror in the 70s’, from Hollywood from Vietnam to Reagan (New York, Columbia University Press, 1986)