Wednesday, 1 October 2014
Karl Mueller // 2014 // 84 mins
Scott (Jon Foster) is a filmmaker in need of inspiration. He asks his girlfriend Penny (Sarah Jones) to join him in putting their urban lives on hold, moving to a secluded cottage in the words and working on a nature documentary. Pretty quickly Scott's project seems to have reached a standstill, when his backpack and car keys are stolen by a hooded figure roaming the landscape. With Penny, Scott finds the house of the mysterious figure and the pair discover an underground workshop filled with scarecrow-like statues that Penny instantly recognises as the work of a secretive artist known only as Mr. Jones. The discovery prompts Scott and photographer Penny to work together on a joint project about their famous neighbour, but delving too far into the artist's practices uncovers a chilling history and puts them both at risk.
The premise of Mr. Jones is an interesting one. The film starts out in a very familiar way; a young couple travelling somewhere remote, filming every moment of their adventure. This familiarity continues as the pair trace Scott's stolen belongings back to a tattered old house and explore a basement filled with nightmarish statues. It all seems very derivative and unoriginal until Penny makes the revelation that rather than some ritualistic torture chamber, the basement is actually the workshop of a mysterious artist. At this point the film rather abruptly changes direction as Scott travels out to New York and interviews a series of people who are familiar with the work of Mr. Jones. This legend building segment is the most interesting of the film, but it slows down what little momentum the film had by exchanging the remote, eery environment for a series of talking heads. The interviews raise a number of questions about Mr. Jones and the purpose of his 'scarecrows', but the film fails to really answer any of these. Leaving so much plot up to the viewer to interpret can work, but the films final act, an audio/visual assault of nightmarish images and uncomfortable close-ups, is so tedious and stretched-out that when answers do arise any intrigue in the plot and Mr. Jones' story has been lost.
By using the found-footage style much of the films potential originality is instantly lost, as the technique serves no real purpose and isn't even used effectively in creating scares. The documentary sub-plot could just as easily have been brought in without the entire film being shot in first person, and any chance of selling the film as actual found footage is lost early on by how heavily the film is edited, even so far as to include voice-over and montage. The technique feels like even more of a gimmick than usual here, particularly when the final act seems to switch to traditional camerawork, although it really is impossible to tell. The only real success is how well shot the majority of the film is. The early sun-kissed nature documentary sequences are gorgeous and the film provides some truly striking and memorable shots of Mr. Jones statues, even the latter third of the film features some great visuals in amongst the extreme close-ups of Jon Fosters sweaty face.
The concept of the Mr. Jones character is quite fascinating, and the scarecrows he creates are both beautiful and haunting. It is a shame that director Karl Mueller's script couldn't provide a decent story for the character to inhabit. Mr. Jones is a very uneven experience that ranges from mildly interesting to nauseating, but never frightening. There is potential here, but Mueller doesn't even begin to explore it properly.