“[Mr. Jones] quickly devolved into something else, not out of necessity–but perhaps out of nothing more than a shrug of the shoulders.”

Mr. Jones begins like many found-footage films. A happy couple, but maybe with a little turmoil hiding beneath the surface, set off on a new adventure—with camera in hand, of course. Their path takes them to a remote cabin, and the audience settles in to view Day 1 of their journey. But very quickly, the film diverges from the expected. Instead of following the couple day-by-day-by-day, with events starting off small and then escalating to terrifying, the first 51 days of the journey fly by, with only glimpses of some of the shot footage and some seemingly helpful voice-over narration by Scott, the male half of the couple, and the reason they are in an isolated cabin to begin with.

Scott’s narration seems curious at first. The images seem more intriguing than anything he has to say; however, by film’s end, I felt that one of his voice-over confessions was actually that of the film’s writer/director, Karl Mueller. But more on that in a moment.

Mr. Jones
Written & Directed by
Karl Mueller
Jon Foster, Sarah Jones, Mark Steger
Release Date
2 May 2014
Bethany’s Grade: F

The first half hour of the film is filled with potential. Although it never felt as much as a found-footage film as something like The Blair Witch Project does, it still felt like an entry in the subgenre. Scott’s camera traveled with him through each scene, and his work in the New York scenes created a nice mockumentary in the middle of the film. A synopsis of the first portion of the film reads like one for a promising horror film: While spending a year in an isolated cabin, a couple are startled when a hooded figure steals their car keys. They realize they are not alone in the woods, and search for their keys in a neighboring house they cannot believe exists. The house brings both terror and delight to the couple, as  they realize that the infamous and mysterious artist, Mr. Jones, is their new neighbor. Penny encourages Scott to research the artist, but what they discover just might kill them.

I wish I could end the synopsis there (and, for the sake of avoiding spoilers, I technically will end the synopsis there), but the film loses itself (and likely the audience) not long after Scott’s research leads him back to the depths of Mr. Jones’ cabin. What begin as a creepy film with some genuine chills and thrills became a jumbled mess of a film that was likely cribbed from the discarded nightmares of David Lynch—but that’s probably an insult to David Lynch (and his nightmares).

I love a story that plays with expectations. I love macabre, oneiric fantasies that twist and turn the plot. I love films that require repeat viewings to catch every clue, twist, and carefully planned out element.  Mr. Jones attempted to do at least some of these things, but I don’t think any of it was carefully planned or providing a deeper meaning that a patient and enthralled audience was expected to unwrap.

Let’s go back to those opening 51 days, where Scott provides some exposition that seems like it will be important later on. There’s a reason Scott and Penny relocated to the middle of nowhere but made sure to film the whole thing. Scott was supposedly going to shoot a nature documentary, but somewhere between Day 1 and Day 51, he realized that he had nothing. He didn’t have any particularly stunning footage; he had no motivation to wait around to find stunning footage; he really didn’t seem that interested in the concept of a nature documentary at all. So here he was, equipped to make a film he didn’t want to make, didn’t think he could make. He had moved out to nowhere. He still had nearly an entire year left, but had no idea what to do with it. Scott’s story seems to be the exact story of this film. It started as a found-footage horror film, and it feels like somewhere down the line, after a few of the important found-footage scenes had been filmed, it just wasn’t working. So the film quickly devolved into something else, not out of necessity (because, just like Scott did have some nice nature footage in his film, so did Mr. Jones have some nice scary plot points), but perhaps out of nothing more than a shrug of the shoulders.

The film becomes nothing more than frustrating to watch. Mr. Jones doesn’t finish as a found-footage film. It kind of keeps some of the typical found-footage elements in the second half, but for the most part it seems like that idea is one of the many abandoned somewhere down the line. Had it started out with the same tone or strangeness (a word I hate to use, since strange can often be so very good in films), then it might just be a bad film, or a weird film (which, again, can be very good). But because it started out as a found-footage film with a delightfully creepy premise, and because it delivered some heart-pounding scares early on, the film’s spiral away from those things made it almost unbearable to finish.

Review by Entertainment Writer & Film Critic, Bethany Rose