Studio: Anchor Bay Films
Director: Karl Mueller
Writer: Karl Mueller
Producer: Ross M. Dinerstein
Stars: Jon Foster, Sarah Jones, Mark Steger, Diane Neal, Faran Tahir, David Clennon, Ethan Sawyer, Stanley Herman, Jordan Byrne, Rachel O’Meara
A couple escapes to a cabin in the woods where their disturbance of strange scarecrow totems blurs the lines between reality and nightmare.
Horror movie couples suffering relationship pains always think a country cabin getaway is a good idea for reigniting their romantic flame. Scott and Penny are killing two birds with one stone by doubling up their self-prescribed therapy session with Scott’s plan of filming a nature documentary in the meanwhile. Time-lapse montages of animals in the fields and insects on the rocks are pushed to the side however, when Scott discovers strange sculptures of sinister scarecrows belonging to a masked man residing in a mysterious house in the nearby woods.
Penny realizes that the elaborate totems are actually the handiwork of Mr. Jones, an urban legend amalgamation of elusive street artist Banksy and fictional apparition The Slender Man. The hipster art scene has been atwitter over Mr. Jones ever since his strange tree sculptures began appearing at random, delivered to the doorsteps of various people seemingly without rhyme or reason. More coveted than a Space Invader waffle, a Mr. Jones scarecrow can easily fetch a seven-figure sum, with the creator himself having become even more of a mystery than the motivation behind his twisted creations.
A number of filmmakers object to their movies being classified as “found footage” because of the association that term has with the conceit of the fiction. Although “found footage” has come to classify any presentation shot in a first-person style, an argument can be made that the pure definition implies a frame of being “actual” crime scene recordings re-cut as a feature film.
“Mr. Jones” writer/director Karl Mueller has as strong a case as anyone for reasoning that his film is not exactly “found footage,” at least not as it is traditionally understood. “Mr. Jones” opens as a combination video journal and nature doc B-roll that evolves into a formal documentary endeavoring to expose Mr. Jones’ identity as well as the truth behind his enigmatic creations. As the movie evolves into a surreal fusion of waking world nightmare, any reasoning meant to justify why cameras are rolling and who is doing the filming is intentionally tossed to the wayside as unimportant to the story.
The first half of “Mr. Jones” lays down a compelling track of occult intrigue with an offbeat mockumentary that combines the hoity-toity backdrop of art world pretension and a supernatural mystery. Think of it like “Exit Through the Gift Shop” or “Who the *$&% Is Jackson Pollock?” meets “The Blair Witch Project.”
The notion of a shadowy figure with a J.D. Salinger reputation who creates frightening life-size talismans for possibly satanic purposes is a juicy seed for sprouting an original terror tale and a unique take on the “found footage” format. Unfortunately, “Mr. Jones” crushes its initially tangible concept underfoot by developing into an interpretive psychological dreamscape about a blurred line between reality and nightmare.
Despite his name being the film’s title, Mr. Jones is less than a secondary player in his own movie. His almost complete dismissal from the storyline in act three is disappointing not just because his strange presence is the film’s most intriguing element, but also because the alternative path the plot takes is not as interesting as he is.
As the film rides an undulating wave of experimental film tricks and techniques to paint its fractured psyche portrait, “Mr. Jones” gives rise to the debate about whether its narrative gains anything from the first-person angle, or if it might have been better served by traditional storytelling. My take is that the tone turns into such cerebral territory that the midpoint abandonment of “found footage” logic actually fits into the film’s creation of a world without rational sense. Once the story sets foot into increasingly fantastical fiction, the viewer stops noticing how much it cheats with the format and simply accepts it as part of the weirdness depicted onscreen.
Yet for all the style that “Mr. Jones” delivers, and for all the attention it initially commands, the movie is let down by an ending that dives deep in philosophical waters without keeping the frights rooted in something relatable. The picture quality is among the best the subgenre has ever seen for a handheld camera, and sets like Mr. Jones’ secret lair are cool looking and creative with their gnarled branch scarecrows and candlelit oddities. But it is a sheen so slick that it undermines the scariness. “Mr. Jones” is a movie that is almost on its way to telling a frighteningly Lovecraftian yarn, but ultimately finds itself distracted by overindulgent artistry.
Review Score: 65