Written and directed by Karl Mueller
Distributed by Anchor Bay Entertainment
Settling in to watch Mr. Jones, the first thing that got my attention was the fact that it was rated PG-13. Usually, that’s a pretty big obstacle to overcome for a horror movie. Not to say that it can’t be an effective horror offering if it’s rated PG-13, but it is certainly harder to find them than it is their R-rated brethren.
After sighing past the PG-13 disappointment, I discover Mr. Jones is a handheld camera, found footage style picture. There have been so many horror movies shot in this style over the last few years that it’s become quite tedious and repetitive. Again, not to say that a good movie can’t come from the handheld camera style, but the fact that the technique is somewhat overplayed makes it another hurdle for Mr. Jones to jump.
However, very quickly into the movie viewers will notice, especially on Blu-ray, that Mr. Jones is gorgeously shot. Filmed in a mountainous countryside, director Karl Mueller captured imagery so crisply that it appears to be nearly three-dimensional in some sections. Stunning landscape shots are intermingled with unique camera angles and clever imagery early in the film. As the action rolls on, the beauty becomes less frequent, but the sharpness of the picture cannot be overstated. It’s a skillfully shot movie.
And to its credit, Mr. Jones achieves the prime directive of horror. It creates tension. The Big T. There are certainly some scenes where you will find yourself squirming in your chair as you wonder just what is around the next corner. Much of it is Paranormal Activity-esque jump scares, but in my book tension is tension, and Mr. Jones does keep you involved early on.
This is the story of Scott and Penny. They are a young couple who find themselves living in a remote cabin for a year. Scott traded in his regular job and regular life to go live in the woods and shoot a wilderness documentary. And Penny, loving girlfriend that she is, gave up her big city life and followed her man on his epic adventure. Unfortunately, Scott realizes he misses his TV and creature comforts more than he ever would have imagined (plus he conveniently went off his mental illness meds), and the relationship begins to crumble after a few weeks in seclusion.
Soon, Scott and Penny stumble across another cabin not far from theirs. A little exploration uncovers some unique scarecrow-esque totems that Penny immediately recognizes as the work of a reclusive artist known only as “Mr. Jones.” She convinces Scott that he must change the subject of his documentary and temporarily return to New York City to interview all sorts of people connected to the artwork of Mr. Jones. The thrill of the new discovery and refocused project heal the fissures that had cracked in their relationship, and Scott and Penny attack this outing with zeal. And then all sorts of strange things begin to happen.
Director Mueller incorporated a different handheld camera technique in Mr. Jones as he gave his characters the use of a camera that would film what was in front of the cameraman as well as capture the cameraman’s face. Not sure in what capacity this would have been used if Scott had stuck with the nature documentary, but it does make for a more complete handheld camera film. At least the viewer is getting some kind of reaction to the shaky imagery in front of them, and not just the shaky imagery. Also, a section in the middle of Mr. Jones is made up of some of Scott’s documentary interview footage. This was a very clever way to give the audience a little more of Mr. Jones’ story and add some intrigue to the character. This is a similar technique to one that was used in The Silence of the Lambs, for example, when other characters talked about how evil Dr. Lecter was before we ever got a look at him.
But as beautiful and creatively shot as the first half of the movie is, Mr. Jones takes an unfortunate turn at around the halfway mark. Much of the handheld camera work becomes shakier as the characters are in situations where they need to run. And everything eventually breaks down into disjointed, dream-like, choppy scenes. Things become hard to follow and sometimes even hard to see. By the time I got to the final ten minutes, I had had enough of the ongoing trippy scenes and was absolutely ready for the end.
Nicely shot with good performances from the two main actors, Jon Foster and Sarah Jones, Mr. Jones gets off on the right foot for sure. But by the time the final bell rings, you may find yourself wondering just what the hell happened for the past 30 minutes. With a PG-13 rating and no F/X work to fall back on, Mr. Jones needs to rely on story to keep viewers in the game, and it manages to do that for only about 45 minutes before things go screwy at the end.
2 1/2 out of 5
0 out of 5