Mr. Jones (2014)
Directed by Karl Mueller.
Cast: Jon Foster, Sarah Jones, Mark Steger, Faran Tahir, Stanley B. Herman, Jordan Byrne, David Clennon, Diane Neal, Rachel O'Meara.
2014 89 minutes
Rated: (for terror, frightening images, a scene of sexuality and brief language).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, April 21, 2014.
A liberal take-off on the found-footage horror boom of the last several years, "Mr. Jones" begins as such, with aspiring filmmaker Scott (Jon Foster) and wife Penny (Sarah Jones) dropping their hectic city lives for an extended rural retreat in the mountains. Scott is hoping to find inspiration for a nature documentary he wants to make, but it quickly settles in that he has not satisfactorily thought his plan out. Penny's frustrations escalate as Scott stops taking his medication and grows distant, but they are both reinvigorated when a hooded figure snatches Scott's bag and escapes into the ridge. The couple follow him and discover they are residing within walking distance to Mr. Jones (Mark Steger), a famed artist so reclusive that he has become something of an urban legend. Sneaking into his home, they find heaps of heretofore undiscovered scarecrow totemshis art pieces of choiceand begin plotting an exposé centering on the mythos surrounding him.
Any logical person would take one look at the shadowy, garishly visaged Mr. Jones and the dank, frightening catacombs of his hideaway and get the hell out of dodge. Any respectful person wouldn't even enter a complete stranger's house and start snooping around. Roughly thirty minutes into "Mr. Jones," Scott and Penny have been penned by first-time director Karl Mueller (screenwriter of 2012's "The Divide") as entitled, insensitive yuppies so caught up in themselves that they don't even think about the possibility that a potentially very dangerous phantom is living next door. Even more outside the realms of belief, Scott hops a plane to Manhattan to start interviewing experts of the art world for his new doc, leaving Penny for over a week by herself. In the middle of nowhere. Living next to a blanketed hermit who looks like Leatherface's slightly chillier twin. Mixing raw footage (albeit scored to music) with talking-head interviews before becoming a conventionally shot narrative by the third act, "Mr. Jones" evokes an atmosphere of dread while following protagonists who are blissfully ignorant bordering on shockingly, idiotically brazen.
"Mr. Jones" is fascinating in certain respects, most notably in its depiction of what might happen if one was to inadvertently stumble upon an underground celebrity who, until now, had never actually been glimpsed by the outside public. Sure, they would likely be curious, but would they invade his space if his home was basically a dungeon of the macabre? The film takes a sharp turn in the second half, and not for the better, seguing to dreamlike abstraction where what is truly going on may or may not be happening. Stylistic choices, including the editing's incessant fades to black every thirty seconds, become tedious, and the eerie tension of the earlier scenes dissipates every second the story drifts from reality. In attempting to experiment with horror tropes and the found-footage format, director Karl Mueller tries too hard and walks away with a muddled, drastically uneven hodgepodge. In this case, less would have turned out to be much more.