Written and Directed by: Karl Mueller
Starring: Jon Foster, Sarah Jones, and Mark Steger
Reviewed by: Brett Gallman
If you see him, run.
Mr. Jones is yet another found footage movie striving not to be yet another found footage movie. Itís a noble pursuit to be sure, and, while I would like to say he succeeds, writer/director Karl Mueller winds up confirming the limits of the form more than anything. In his attempt to tackle profound questions, indulge a complex mythology, and adhere to the manufactured mystery demanded by the genre, he winds up with a frustrating, needlessly tedious effort that squanders its good intentions and potential.
Scott and Penny (Jon Foster and Sarah Jones) are a young, artsy couple looking to leave their mark. To this end, Scott proposes that the two give up their modern amenities and retreat into nature, where heíll film a documentary that will change the world. As the weeks pass, Scott grows more lethargic, and whatever strife already existed between the couple is compounded by artistic frustrations. Their not-so-idyllic isolation is interrupted even further by the appearance of a bizarre squatter, which sends them down a rabbit hole in search of an enigmatic artist whose work may actually hold world-changing qualities.
Imagine if Terrence Malick decided to reimagine Von Trierís Anitchrist, only he had an amateur script at his disposal and got bored about halfway through: thatís Mr. Jones in a nutshell, only itís not really as interesting as all that. The onset of the coupleís drama especially feels like something out of Malick, as Scott ponders (in bursts of freshman-level musings) the situation over handheld nature shots. Admittedly, the ominous rumblings beneath these beautiful images makes for a jarring disconnect, and, while the film adheres to the domestic found footage formula (it keeps track of the number of days spent at this site, much like Paranormal Activity tallies its nights), the change in scenery is refreshing. Scott and Penny arenít in some overtly creepy backwoods haunt, but thereís something eerie in its gorgeous desolation all the same.
Just when it looks like the deceptive scenery will trigger the underlying domestic strife, Mr. Jones takes a hard left turn when the two decide to follow the squatter to a nearby house. After the impromptu trespassing, Penny speculates that theyíve found the den of Mr. Jones, a mysterious, world-famous artist who apparently targets people with his psyche-shattering work. The revelation sends them on an investigation, at which point the film detours into Blair Witch country, with Scott interviewing various experts and those who have claimed to encounter Mr. Jonesís art. One guyís reticence is an especially portentous sign that Scott is uncovering that which isnít meant to be uncoveredóas it turns out, Jones is like Banksy by way of Freddy Krueger, endowed with the power to blend nightmares and reality through his art.
Itís an intriguing concept that reveals Muellerís desire to explore the transgressive nature of art, but it only winds up as a platform for an obtuse, meandering climax. Left only with these vague interviews (wherein the participants offer speculation about the nature of Jonesís artwork), Scott and Penny up the ante by breaking into Jonesís house again to find a more solid explanation. Given how much these two wilfully trespass, itís hard to drum up much sympathyóI mean, itís one thing to be a bit of a dipshit in the face of supernatural chicanery, but breaking and entering a threshold into a nightmare realm? These two deserve everything that happens to themónot that itís easy to parse just what does happen to them, as the final twenty minutes operate under a tedious nightmare logic, with the couple slipping in and out of various planes of existence.
While Mueller captures some haunting images and even manages a couple of unnerving jolts, itís a rather empty cacophony that sprawls with little rhyme or reason. Given the found footage setup, viewers are left only with those speculative interviews and the coupleís confusing, vague trip into Mr. Jonesís reality-warping abode. Ultimately, the film isnít quite impenetrableóMueller sketches just enough of a somewhat ironic resolution. Itís just that getting there is such a chore because youíre essentially stuck watching a couple recording their family vacation to hell. Muellerís rich ideas deserve more than the base, visceral shocks provided by this form, and the attempts to appeal to a more cerebral fear of the unknown falls flat because, well, you kind of want to know more about Mr. Jones himself.
Explicitly spelling everything out isnít necessary, but those ideas are restrained by the format, which limits the audienceís perspective and merely preys on a false, frustrating sense of ambiguity, leaving it to merely join the ever-growing parade of found footage. If nothing else, it is an exceptionally slick, well-shot entry into the sub-genre (until it degenerates into an overly-shaky, murky affair, as these films are often wont to do), which is reflected well by the presentation on Anchor Bayís recent Blu-ray release (itís an otherwise bare-bones disc). Still, one canít help but shake the feeling that Mr. Jones is exactly what it strives not to beóyet another found footage movie. For a film preoccupied with the power of art, it sure is a forgettable take on a well-worn technique. Rent it!
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