Right up until its final act, “Mr. Jones” (2013) amazed me by how good it was. Here was a creative, thoughtful and extremely frightening found-footage horror movie. It was so damned good that I was surprised that I hadn’t heard about it before.
The story idea was fresh and interesting — a young couple moves to an isolated forest cabin, only to discover that a mysterious neighbor is “Mr. Jones,” a legendary anonymous folk artist. This hermit produces grotesque artworks — “scarecrows,” totems and dreamcatchers that he then mails to apparently random recipients around the world. Not all of them are pleased with their macabre gifts, and their benefactor’s identity and motivations become the stuff of urban legends. (Try to imagine H.R. Giger with a modus operandi like Banksy.) There is a lot more going on here than a cliche yarn about a supernatural bogeyman.
The script is smart, the story is well developed, and the tension builds slowly and effectively as the tale unfolds for our two protagonists. My only quibble is that the couple does incredibly stupid things, and are cheerfully curious about discoveries that should scare the hell out of them. But that is a failing of so many horror films that I decided not to let it bother me.
Then the movie loses its way. I’m disappointed to share here that this otherwise great film suffers because of its disjointed, meandering and consequently frustrating climax. It’s too long, it’s too confusing, and it spends far too much time repeating redundant shots and scare-moments.
We see one character, for example, pursued by multiple adversaries … repeatedly. Well, these adversaries stop being scary when the viewer eventually arrives at the conclusion that either A.) they can’t catch this person or B.) they can’t hurt this person.
At another point, a character must do something urgent, but receives contradictory instructions from different sources. This plot development could have been damned unnerving in the context of our story, but it’s nearly lost in a confusing barrage of repetitive images and sounds. Writer-director Karl Mueller strives to immerse the viewer in a kind of surreal “nightmare.” But he makes a mistake that is common for surreal horror films — portraying confused and disoriented characters does not always require the viewer to be confused and disoriented. A shorter, sparser, cleaner script would have saved what might have been a classic.
Oh, well. This movie was still fun enough. Again … much of it is quite excellent. And another viewer might not be as turned off by its conclusion as I was. I still recommend “Mr. Jones,” if a little reluctantly. I’d rate it a 7 out of 10.