Review: Mr. Jones (2013)

Mr. Jones and me... drop acid and make terrifying bone art?

Mr. Jones (2013)
Directed by: Karl Mueller
Written by: Karl Mueller
Starring: Jon Foster, Sarah Jones, Mark Steger

3 Knives

Mr. Jones is one of those movies that can be looked at in one of two ways. First, there’s the way I try to look at films by relatively new movie makers: I’m quite forgiving and I try to find what it is that they do well. I don’t tally petty mistakes, but rather I try to see the work as a whole and find what is attractive about it overall. And honestly, for Karl Mueller’s first feature acting as both writer and director, Mr. Jones is quite the accomplishment. But of course, then there’s the second way of looking at movies and this is the category that most people unfortunately fall into: “It doesn’t matter how many features a director has under his belt, if the movie sucks than it sucks.” Armchair critics are a dime a dozen and they’re always the first person in line screaming about how terrible, how awful, how horrendous this or that movie was. But I don’t see the point in that. If a young filmmaker shows promise (which Karl Mueller most definitely does), shouldn’t we as fans encourage that promise? Shouldn’t we support these new directors and writers and actors so that their future projects can be all that they dream they can be?

Mr. Jones is a faux-documentary that stars Jon Foster and Sarah Jones as Scott and Penny: a young couple who sell all of their worldly possessions, give up their high-paying photography and film making jobs in the Big Apple, and move out west to a secluded cabin. Scott’s intent is to record their experiences in their new surroundings and create a documentary depicting two city dwellers “getting back to the basics.” There’s also the underlying conceit that Scott is a troubled man who struggles with depression and this trip may be the couple’s last chance to save their union. Things appear to be going (sort of) alright for the first third of the flick, but soon, Scott and Penny discover they are not alone in the big, rocky wilderness of the American west. Someone is out there in the darkness, leaving behind grotesque works of art that, at least to Penny, look a bit familiar.

Okay, so “faux-documentary” implies “found-footage.” Yes, the film is shot on handhelds throughout. But, as I said before in my review of Ti West’s The Sacrament, there is a reason for the camera to be running. Of course, when the inexplicable begins to transpire in the last two thirds of the movie, the reasoning for the camera being continually pointed at the action begins to stretch a little too thin. Unfortunately, in this sub-genre of horror, it’s just something viewers have to accept, or dismiss outright.

The set-up of Mr. Jones is solid and contains some very mesmerizing and chilling moments. The titular Mr. Jones does have a back story and I must say, it’s quite a unique and interesting one. Both Scott and Penny come across as extremely likable characters and as a viewer, you do root for their love to be repaired. The setting’s natural beauty lends to the film at certain times a placid calm and at others, a foreboding tension. The American west is a big place and Mueller excellently conveys the duality that solitude elicits from human beings. For your typical handheld horror film, there are some absolutely gorgeous and engaging visuals.

But as the movie progresses towards its climax, here is where Mr. Jones begins to lose its way.

I won’t spoil the third act because, honestly, I don’t think I could as I’m not too sure of what happened. Mr. Jones shifts gears around the fifty minute mark and transforms into an absolute acid trip. And not in a Terry Gilliam/Hunter S. Thompson way that viewers might find enjoyable. No, the movie becomes incoherent. Yes, the visuals are very striking and a fittingly tense atmosphere is communicated throughout this section, but it is far outweighed by the inconceivable nature of the narrative. An ending is salvaged within the last few minutes of Mr. Jones, but the abrupt shift in tone is going to leave most viewers perplexed and maybe even a little annoyed.

So does that mean Mr. Jones is a bad film?

No, I don’t think so at all. It’s definitely flawed, but this is Mueller’s first time acting as both writer and director. And what he is able to accomplish is quite remarkable. Even during the unexplainable third act, you can see the man’s talents just waiting to break free and get to the surface. No, Mueller didn’t knock Mr. Jones out of the park and give horror fans something as unexpectedly memorable as Ti West’s break-out feature The House of the Devil. But he has shown that he is capable of managing a story with many different and intricate elements. I believe Karl Mueller’s films are only going to get better as he comes into his own as a writer and director. He is part of the future of horror and, as I have said numerous times, the talents of the future are the ones who need to be supported, praised, and discussed. I recommend Mr. Jones to anyone willing to view new horror with an open mind and anyone who is ready to see who will be shaping the future of our genre.

3 Comments on this post.

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  • Josh Millican
    12 November 2014 at 3:31 pm - Reply

    Great review! I critiqued the film myself a few months back and one thing I really had to tip my hat to was the artwork:

    Mr. Jones is absolutely captivating and, in many ways, the artwork itself becomes a character in the film. There is a beautiful creepiness throughout; the sculptures are primitive, haunting, and universal—both terrifying and mystifying. I learned in the credits that all these works were created by an anonymous Halloween-obsessed sculptor who calls himself Pumpkinrot. While information on Pumpkinrot is scarce, I found evidence of a cult-like following that makes me wonder if he is a real-life inspiration for the mysterious Mr. Jones? Either way, I now consider myself one of his fans. You can Google Pumpkinrot for yourself… Just as the cover-art made buying the DVD worth it, the art of Pumpkinrot alone is a reason to give Mr. Jones a spin.

    I also agree with your rating: 3 out of 5.

  • Melissa B.
    12 November 2014 at 5:55 pm - Reply

    I was so close to watching this on Netflix today (before seeing your review) but I picked something else.. silly Netflix gave it a 2 star rating for me so I was afraid to try it. But now I wish I had! Definitely next up for me to watch.

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