“MR. JONES” (Tribeca Movie Review)
Seemingly the most divisive midnight/horror offering at the Tribeca Film Festival this year, MR. JONES has garnered reaction across the spectrum. What’s odd though is how in polite conversation, most have refrained from mentioning just how admirably weird Karl Mueller’s sort-of found footage feature debut gets in its second half. MR. JONES is a strange beast and for better or worse—or however you come out of it—refreshing in that it’s a fairly unique, Lynchian addition to the current glut of docu-style terror.
Scott (Jon Foster) and Penny (Sarah Jones) are making a documentary. About what, they don’t even know. There is life, nature, working on their relationship, but nothing more sinister than a general sense of ennui and Scott’s idea that they need a change. Voiceover and gorgeous looks at their newly rural surroundings introduce the couple and their fresh, isolated home. They are tender, they are affectionate, they are flippant, they are secretive (Scott’s off his meds) and all that comes with an intense connection and close quarters. The more frightening manner of their cinematic journey is pure happenstance, unlike many similarly styled films and lead characters that go in search of…
The happenstance is their proximity to Mr. Jones, an elusive, intriguing and reclusive artist with macabre sensibility. Penny is delighted at their discovery of his basement studio, even sending Scott off to do a section of amusing, yet atmosphere and myth building talking head interviews; all the while unaware what will come.
[Note: Discussion of MR. JONES is difficult without revealing its nature, so beware of heavy spoilers from here on out]
While the easy guess here is that the artist is some sort of quiet killer, the reality (or unreality) is farther out. MR. JONES the film is a sort of kin to the likes of CABIN IN THE WOODS and RESOLUTION (well, a lot of kin to RESOLUTION it feels like), aligning itself with an attitude that darker art is necessary for our own humanity. Mr. Jones, the character is a gatekeeper of sorts, holding a nightmarish dimension at bay with the work he does, as if they act as offerings. So, naturally, Scott takes something.
This, in turn, unleashes all hell in the film’s latter moments and is when you begin to realize that MR. JONES is somehow all-encompassing of found footage. There is a traditional docu-style, the standard chaotic chasing, confessionals and even a second, more sinister camera you come to understand exists outside of Scott and Penny (one of the clearest of RESOLUTION similarities). This across the board aspect seems to be Mueller mulling over the place of cinema scarité*. Could Jones stand in for any sophisticated filmmaking master retaining prestige, mystique and cautionary shyness, and yet here come these two with a pro-sumer camera and rough outline who open the floodgates?
Whatever the analytic intention, MR. JONES does excitingly aim to do some weirder stuff with the device, leading to a final act that’s really something. An assaulting, strobing, surreal sprint through the forest, Chris and Penny keep encountering frightening visions of themselves and each other; the strangeness on display specifically recalling Lynch in its colors and frightening duality. It’s also massively frustrating. The choppy, jerking style employed by Mueller becomes abrasive in the extended sequence, wrapping up with a possibility there might not be as much to chew on as all the spectacle would have you believe. If you are not turned off, however, a second viewing seems in order.
*Sorry, it’s my favorite genre pun.