One of the most frustrating things a horror movie can do is waste an interesting premise. Such is the case with Karl Mueller’s debut feature Mr. Jones, which blows its promising concept of metaphysical dreamscapes and a monster doubling as an avant-garde artist on boring imagery and tired found footage thrills. It feels like Mueller (who co-wrote 2011’s The Divide) came up with notion for a cool and unique film but wasn’t sure how to pull it off.
The film follows aspiring documentary filmmaker Scott (Jon Foster) and his girlfriend Penny (Sarah Jones), who he’s dragged to an isolated cabin out in the desert somewhere. She left behind her entire life so Scott can fulfill his nature documentary fantasy, so when he begins slipping in his filming efforts, some friction between them sparks resentment. It doesn’t help that Scott’s always filming everything with a very awkward camera rig that films what’s in front of him and his own face at the same time. I’m all for innovative techniques in found footage movies, but Scott’s method just seems uncomfortable.
While he’s filming one of his nature segments (which is actually him whining about filming a nature segment), his backpack is stolen by a mysterious hooded figure. When Penny and him go to investigate the man, they discover that he’s the elusive Mr. Jones – a cult figure of the avant-garde art scene who anonymously leaves skull-ridden totems in various locations. Penny compares him to J.D. Salinger and Banksy, only I don’t think those guys lumbered around the desert in a hooded cloak, carting around bones and twigs. Maybe they did, what do I know?
Here the film jumps to documentary style talking head interviews where experts, art critics, fans, etc. discuss Mr. Jones. Some of the folks urge Scott to avoid contact with Mr. Jones because he may be a guardian-like figure keeping evil from the dream world at bay with his totems. Again, this talking-head segment feels like Mueller may be fluffing out the film because of shortcomings in the story.
Scott and Penny see this is as their chance to make a groundbreaking documentary about Mr. Jones, so they do the most logical thing they can think of: break into his house and go through his shit. Even for a horror film these two are a couple of real knuckleheads.
The film takes a startling turns towards balls-out supernatural horror during its third act. There’s a lot of static and visual noise as scenes from earlier are replayed from a different angle, offering up questions of what really happened. There’s a loose idea of changing identities going on, with Scott and Penny’s dream-alter-egos running about because Mr. Jones’ sanctum was disturbed, but it’s tough to tell what the hell is going on during the visual assault that makes up this segment. It’s a whole lotta noise.
Mueller begins with a promising idea, then pads it out with talking head interviews and a barrage of disorientating images. It’s engaging stuff for about 20 minutes, but by the end of the film it felt like Mueller simply didn’t know what to do with all of his ideas.
Mr. Jones is available now on Blu-ray and DVD. No special features are included.