James Reviews Karl Mueller’s Mr. Jones [Tribeca Film Festival 2013 Review]

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Found footage films are a dime a dozen now, with many just using the genre as an easy way to make a quick buck and a cheap way of doing so. Thankfully Mr. Jones is not one of those films, instead using the found footage in a more clever way. It’s not used as a quick out, but instead advances the story in a nightmare like fashion, something like David Lynch directing a Lovecraftian film with a The Last Broadcast sensibility. What is real and what is not is always being questioned, which is what had my attention from the moment the film began.

Scott (Jon Foster) and his wife Penny (Sarah Jones) are travelling to a remote cabin (a horror trope used time and time again) to let Scott film a nature documentary for the next year. He has top of the line cameras to do so and Penny has left everything behind, job, friends and family in order to support him. It sounds pretty ideal until soon into the experience, Scott stops taking his meds and depression kicks in, leaving him not filming as much and just becoming closed off. One day, while filming on a hill, some cloaked figure takes his bag, which prompts Scott to get Penny to follow this person. They find a ramshackle cabin that they didn’t notice before. While looking around, they find a basement which has strange totems, scarecrow like figures. They find the bag and escape barely without the man seeing them. Penny thinks she recognizes the work and realizes it’s Mr. Jones, a myth of an artist who supposedly sent scarecrows out to random people in the 1970’s and then stopped.

Penny thinks they should make a documentary or a coffee table book about Mr. Jones instead, which Scott thinks sounds like a great idea. He flies to New York City to interview people who are familiar with Mr. Jones, ranging from art gallery owners, college professors and even a young man who claims to have gotten a new piece in the mail himself. As this is all going on in documentary style, we see Penny taking pictures of more scarecrows Mr. Jones has put out. She sees him in person, tries to talk to him but after seeing a quick glimpse of his face, she leaves and starts to ‘feel’ the art, having it all feel familiar to her. When Scott comes back is when the shit truly hits the proverbial fan.

And that’s what makes the film quite interesting from the rest of the found footage bombardment. While watching it, I felt as if I was in and out of a dream myself, just like Scott experiences, which is where the Lovecraftian idea popped into my head. No, it’s not the usual goopy tentacle Cthulhu mythos most go for in their ventures, but more like the ethereal mindwarp of the majority of his stories. It’s a strong point of the film, where we get knocked around by the visuals and Scott’s slow descent into a sort of madness. A complaint I saw from some people is that at one point the film abandons the found footage trope, but I disagree completely with that. I think it uses the camera style in an interesting way, giving the viewer a new way to look at found footage and no excuse for future films to be lazy with it.

The Mr. Jones character is definitely a cool one, never knowing if he’s there to protect or hurt our two characters. It gives a sense of mystery that we’re always second guessing and hoping to come up with the answer before we find out too late. But Scott and Penny are never the usual ‘so dumb’ characters in horror films, because knowing a few documentary filmmakers myself, they’ve done some insane stuff, especially when it comes to a story that might sell more than a safer one. Yes, this has a supernatural slant, but they aren’t aware of that either and as the film progresses, they slowly start to question their own sanity of what they’ve been experiencing.

While I enjoyed the film and it’s Lovecraftian touches, it does prove something I’ve been saying for years and that not all films need to be over 80 minutes in order to be a feature length film. Some tighter editing, especially in the latter half, could have made the film one of the essential go to films in the found footage genre, but instead it’s still one of the better ones to come out in the last 10 years. Mind you I’m not a huge fan of the Paranormal Activity series because it doesn’t do anything different with the genre, while Mueller has crafted a horror film that is a continuous nightmare, confusing the audience in the best way possible. I found it funny that at the end of the movie, with a proper ending that made sense, someone in the audience said, “What did I just watch?” in a demeaning way. I wanted to say they watched an interesting horror film, something that I’m always searching for and am happy that Anchor Bay has the rights to the film, hoping it’s released for all to see sooner rather than later.