Never have I been so back and forth while watching a movie. Normally, I can find an emotional through line in every movie I watch, be it good or bad. Mr. Jones (arriving on blu-ray May 6th via Anchor Bay Films) had me squinting, shaking my head, smiling, saying “what the fuck are they doing this for?!” more times than I can remember happening ever. It has soooo many things going for it, yet takes so many weird routes to get there. Is that bad to be challenged? Not necessarily. But it doesn’t mean it’s going to work either.
Mr. Jones is beyond an individual, he’s an idea. He’s an existential idea as much as he is a reclusive artist. On one hand, folks who discuss Mr. Jones talk about him as a spiritually gifted artist who’s weird natural artwork is a reflection of society. On the other hand, he’s spoken of in almost mythical ways…ways that describe him as an entity to fear. An entity that can conjure that same evils that we fear monsters for. Like Mr. Jones, Scott & Penny are artists. To find inspiration, the couple move to a remote cabin that shares the woods inhabited by the infamous Mr. Jones. Naturally, their artistic curiosity gets the best of them and they seek out a closer encounter with the elusive sculptor. Unfortunately for them, coming this close results in the pair plunging face first into a hallucinogenic nightmare that has no exit door.
Damnit if I didn’t struggle with my emotions behind this one. I’m still not certain if I like or dislike it. There are pieces of this film that are fantastic. The concept of Mr. Jones is a truly fascinating piece of storytelling. I commend writer/director Karl Mueller on his creepy antagonist. But that is to say that Mr. Jones is the antagonist. Truthfully, the nosy manner that Scott & Penny pry into the lore, and eventually the home, of Mr. Jones leaves the viewer not giving a shit what happens to them. I understand the curious nature by which they’re driven. If something like that exists around you, you WANT to know. And honestly, they did do some research on him. So, we’re lead to believe they knew what they’d be getting into…sort of. This is where I love and hate this movie all at once. With a movie that falls under the found footage column…forgot to mention that…we’re (of course) going to get the research interviews (of varying degrees), meant to tell the story. To Mueller’s credit, he does a much better job of this than a lot of his current contemporaries. That is to say when compared to many “based in reality” movies, he works against type when it comes to the found footage/mockumentary. The part I dislike? I ended up feeling unfulfilled! With the potential of a character like Mr. Jones, there were many high hopes. The PG-13 rating meant they were steering away from the gore factor and opting for good ol’ fashioned scares. Despite the attempts to fully develop his story with combined styles, I felt left with a lot of questions. Namely, what is the exact origin of Mr. Jones? As the third act would have us believe, he’s the supernatural being with infinite abilities to terrify his trespassers with. But I don’t really have any idea why! Trust me, I’m not one of those types that NEEDS a back story on everything, but we’re still dealing with a (potentially) fascinating character far more interesting than your Michael Myers and Jason Vorhees of the world. This is someone who I want to know more about!!! Maybe that’s the movie’s brilliance. Maybe Mueller doesn’t want to give up the ghost. Maybe he wants to leave me hanging. I can respect that. It just felt like we need to know why Mr. Jones is the Mr. Jones we end up meeting. He’s menacing, but he’s faceless. He’s human, but he’s not. Obvious and impossible all at once. It’s not the type of character that’s in need of a franchise, so why not give us some insight into whatever the hell he is? Vague explanations and shaky handheld camerawork isn’t going to cut it in the fear department. You have to execute from a cerebral standpoint. To do so, Mr. Jones would have had to give us more than just emotional back & forth.
Without a clear explanation as to why such evils are possible, it’s hard to get a good read on what was trying to be accomplished with Mr. Jones. It’s technically proficient and it’s shot very nicely. The set pieces are beautiful. Mr. Jones sculptures are amazing. They make for terrifying hunks of scenery. Hell, even the acting was pretty good. I just can’t tell where they were trying to go with this story! Here’s how I can best sum it up, I guess: If you’re a fan of the recent rash of found footage films, the Blair Witch Project, urban legends, and the modern horror film, then consider this a movie worth checking out. It seems like the type of film that will find that Grave Encounters/Netflix fanbase. But if you’re looking to wowed by a story that will stick with you, then don’t come looking for Mr. Jones. You’ll end up unfulfilled.