Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Review: Mr. Jones

Sometimes I wander the aisles of Target, just searching for a random horror DVD with an intriguing cover that costs under $10 to buy blind. Most of the time, this turns out to be a huge waste of money (I’m looking at you, Bereavement; also all of those 8-movies-for-the-price-of-one packs, but that’s my own fault because obviously, right?). Every now and then, though, I end up with a movie that doesn’t make me completely regret my lack of impulse control. Mr. Jones is one such movie.

Note, however, that I said it doesn’t make me completely regret my lack of impulse control. That’s not to say Mr. Jones is a rousing success, nor is it to say that I wouldn’t buy it again if I had it to do over. But let me explain.

Mr. Jones is (mostly) found footage, which is a horror trend that I would dearly love to die right about now, yet continues to limp along year after year. I appreciate that the found footage format allows indie filmmakers on small budgets to get into the horror game – The Blair Witch Project was innovative in its time, and the first Paranormal Activity was, after all, pretty good. Once the big studios caught on, however, the slow and painful deterioration of the style had already begun. Now we have absolute trash like Devil’s Due, and a fifth (or is it sixth?) entry into the Paranormal Activity series in the works – movies that do nothing to advance or improve the genre, but merely follow the same exact path we’ve tread over and over again.

Ranting aside, though, I think it still can be an okay format for smaller budget movies. (Though maybe try to be a little creative and come up with something new, folks. Indie artists, this is your call to action!) So yeah. Mr. Jones doesn’t do a terrible job of utilizing the style, mostly because the premise is so neat. A photographer and a documentarian both suffering from artistic malaise, rent a cabin in the woods for a year in order to work on revitalizing their art. (Though it must be said that heading out to the middle of nowhere in order to make a documentary, when you have no idea what said doc is about, seems like kind of a dumb idea.) Scott is the documentarian who suffers from depression, and Penny is his photographer girlfriend.

Luckily, the movie doesn’t linger on the setup for too long, and within the first few minutes the really interesting bit of the story crops up: while Scott is filming a rambling segment of himself talking about weaning himself off his pills (great idea), a cloaked figure walks into the background and steals Scott’s camera bag. Scott and Penny follow the figure back to a house, where they discover a bunch of sinister-looking (and very cool) sculptures. Penny immediately recognizes the pieces as the work of an enigmatic and reclusive artist known only as “Mr. Jones.” In fact, the identity of the artist has never been discovered by anyone, until right now. Suddenly, Scott has the perfect documentary subject… and Penny plans on making a coffee table book or something.

The plot moves along swiftly from there, and although the characters are constantly doing borderline idiotic things, it stays interesting. We learn more about Mr. Jones as Scott interviews sources in the art world and Penny stays at the cabin to do a bit more firsthand exploring. It all has a very Lovecraftian vibe that I completely dug, and I found myself enthralled by the fictional Mr. Jones and wishing he were real (I mean, sort of).

I couldn't choose just one poster... so I picked both.
Unfortunately, the movie completely falls apart in the last third. Completely. Reality begins to blur with a sort of dream world, which I suppose the filmmakers tried to make ambiguous with that whole bit about Scott weaning himself off pills for an undisclosed mental illness. It just doesn’t work, though. It seems pretty clear what’s happening, but sadly, it’s all so choppy and dull that it’s impossible to care. Scott wanders aimlessly in this alternate reality for far too long, while clich├ęd “scary” imagery pops up every now and then. There’s nothing below the surface, nothing the imagery represents, and so it comes off as hackneyed and pointless.

Strangely, the point of view also shifts out of found footage during the entire dream/alternate reality sequence. Normally I wouldn’t be opposed, as I think found footage films tend to be far too rigid in attempting to maintain “realism,” and almost always end up ultimately sacrificing it in the inevitable third act question, “Why is he still holding that stupid camera?” But in this case, it’s just one more jarring thing that takes you out of the story.

The ending manages to not be entirely unsatisfying. The film does its best to wrap everything up, and the goodwill the story built with me in the first act was enough not to write Mr. Jones off as a failure. I’m willing to give the filmmakers the benefit of the doubt and say that perhaps this was their first experimental attempt at a few different methods of storytelling, even while another part of me believes they just didn’t think this whole story through. I wish Mr. Jones had the follow-through to be as good as its premise, but I still appreciate the rather daring effort.

Final Rating (out of 5):

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