Mr. Jones features Jon Foster and Sarah Jones as Scott and Penny, a young couple escaping to the woods in an attempt to make a nature documentary. But when they come across the secret hideaway of a faceless, reclusive artist, the titular Mr. Jones, their attempts to reveal the person behind some seriously eerie artwork becomes a frightening ordeal that will shatter their entire world.
From writer-director Karl Mueller, Mr. Jones is an interesting little movie that asks a rather interesting question: what if art were created with an implicit purpose beyond what the normal, waking world sees?
This idea has been touched upon a few times before in other movies. For fans of horror, one that might spring to mind is Wes Craven’s New Nightmare, a movie that posited the series of Nightmare on Elm Street films were, in fact, a way for Craven himself to seal away an ancient evil in a literal cinematic prison. In a sense, Mr. Jones–a pseudonym given to the otherwise nameless artist by one of his earliest admirers–is this movie’s version of Craven. It’s said by some that his work is malicious, intent on scarring those find themselves the recipients of the twisted scarecrows he crafts from rags, sticks, and bones. Others, however, believe Mr. Jones’ artwork serves some higher purpose tied to the belief that the dreamworld is a real place that exists alongside our own. That people require a protector from the very real things that lurk in our darkest thoughts.
And much like the legend of Mr. Jones, the core idea of the movie is at times both unsettling and intriguing. Notions like the value of art and the purpose of artists are played with in a fun, twisted way. Mueller does a fantastic job building up the grand mythos of Mr. Jones, creating a world where legitimately fascinatingly twisted art pieces garners admirers and detractors both. The character, long before he’s clearly seen on camera, is built up as some macabre version of prolific street artist Banksy. More so, the movie unravels like something from Lovecraft, with this compelling mystery also unraveling the minds and lives of those who dig too deep into the meaning and purpose of Mr. Jones.
Unfortunately, the found-footage motif and emphasis placed on the otherwise unrelated and uninteresting relationship between Scott and Penny feels like a significant misstep. The stylistic choice is perfectly suited for the documentary portions of the movie, as well as the increasingly surreal moments in later parts. But it does absolutely nothing for the long periods of time spent on random moments of both Scott and Penny being boring if rather cute together and vaguely hinting at the supposed real reason why they’re now living out in the hills of Los Angeles.
Now had the movie been book-ended with these documentary segments about Mr. Jones, similar to the concept of The Blair Witch Project–whose influence is all over this movie–this choice might have worked. But because it starts as a slow moving personal story that is completely and utterly derailed by the appearance and mystery of Mr. Jones, the way it jumps back and forth between its traditional found footage motif and a more realistic documentary approach makes the whole thing feel disjointed. Worse, the main story of the film–the legitimately compelling everything that has to do with Mr. Jones and his scarecrows–has to compete with a wholly pointless, uninteresting b-story about a struggling relationship between two wholly uninteresting characters.
Again, the story and mythos in Mr. Jones are more than serviceable–they’re fascinating. But Mueller’s indecisiveness ultimately made me feel like I was watching a movie cobbled together from three completely different takes on the same script. There’s the troubled romance torn apart further by a mystery that ensnares two lovers. There’s the found-footage horror movie about two filmmakers coming across a mysterious artist and an equally mysterious evil. And then there’s a fictional documentary about an anonymous artist who has taken the world by storm with their unsettling masterpieces. Independently, each one could have easily worked. But sloppily mixed together this way, like one of Mr. Jone’s scarecrows, causes the tension and pacing to reset itself time and time again. It’s frustrating. It’s unnecessary. And it’s utterly confusing.
The uneven storytelling and the multiple, clashing styles used to tell that clunky story makes it hard to easily recommend Mr. Jones. That said, if you can find it in yourself to sit through a patchwork mess of conflicting visuals and tones, you’re likely to find it to be something creepy, kooky, and fun. And if that sounds like a good way to spend an evening, I highly suggest you CHILL with Mr. Jones. But for many, I suspect the truth of Mr. Jones is better left a mystery.