‘Mr. Jones’ Is a Twisted Take on Found Footage – And So Much More
December 8th, 2023 | By Erin Devany
“Trust what you see.” It’s a simple rule to live by, a digestible truth that comforts weary and paranoid skeptics. How, then, can we make sense of our surroundings and their potential dangers if our visible reality is shifted by an outside force? This question, and many more intricately woven queries, are asked time and time again in Karl Mueller‘s surrealistic found footage nightmare, Mr. Jones – a title just as unassuming as the contents of the film’s first act.
Mr. Jones begins as a story we’ve seen before. A couple with a shroud over them attempts to revive what’s left of their dwindling relationship by taking a trip to a scenically peaceful location, pouring themselves into their art of film and painting – a smudge of cheap concealer covering a deeply festering wound. When this approach inevitably falls apart, the proverbial evil seeps in between them and nestles comfortably into their surroundings. Reality breathes in and exhales in different beats, disorienting their world. While this may seem cut and dry in terms of horror storytelling, the lore and unique filmmaking that is implemented to show this evil takes on a misshapen, haunting, incomprehensible face.
The introduction to the movie’s namesake is structured in a very unusual way, seeming to come out of nowhere. The ill-fated couple finds themselves the victims of a thief, and upon searching for the missing backpack of the husband, Scott (Jon Foster), they stumble upon a rickety shack near their cabin with strange and horrifying statues towering around it. The wife, Penny (Sarah Jones), is astonished to find they’re a stone’s throw away from a legendary anonymous artist. “Mr. Jones” was the moniker bestowed upon a mystery sender of many menacing sculptures to unsuspecting art galleries. The installations are made of gnarled, human-shaped branches that give a feeling of ancient worlds. When these pieces showed up, the cursed recipients found their lives infringed upon almost immediately.
This discovery changes the couple’s project from a nature documentary into a piece that focuses on Mr. Jones’s strangely powerful effect on his chosen prey. Scott decides to take the story back to New York to interview the recipients, and we feel a shift. Mr. Jones morphs into a slow burn that leaves the audience wondering where they could be headed (just as naive to the happenings as the couple). The peeling back of the layers starts small but works its way into an avalanche of high strangeness as the characters find their reality bursting at the seams.
Trust crumbles between them and their mystery neighbor as they venture further into the question of who – or what – he could be. Penny finds herself face to face with Mr. Jones in the woods and begs him to be a part of their documentary, feeling as though she’s privy to a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. The figure stares back at her without a response. She shakily approaches him, only to find that his face is a darkened, distorted mess that could barely be captured on camera, let alone comprehensible to the human eye.
This encounter sparks the sudden realization that she isn’t safe as darkness covers the earth around her. Her fear leads her to become lost in the woods, and after frantically searching and documenting things that are impossible to explain, she finds Mr. Jones again in the light of his lantern. Instead of coming for her, however, he guides her home, earning trust that feels strange yet comforting. Penny immediately asks Scott to return so they can understand together what sort of creature they share a space with and whether or not they should continue their documentary on his art. With Scott’s return, the fabric of their realities begins to tear in great shreds.
Their second descent into the home brings forth a grand, deepening horror. Scott descends into the basement, finding a space fit for an occult ritual. Strange, stick-figured wooden men seem to envelop every space, yet one specific object catches his attention. This doll-like creation ominously sits amongst the winding labyrinth of underground tunnels, lit candles where the eyes should be. As a seasoned horror fan, every bone in your body screams for him not to disturb this rune, but he does so nonetheless. After getting lost in a maze that is impossibly long and disorienting, Penny and Scott are finally reunited and return to their cabin.
The removal of the doll was, as to be expected, the catalyst for the remainder of the high strangeness. The two begin experiencing otherworldly happenings, witnessing doppelgangers of one another, a night that never bears dawn, and things that cannot be trusted. As their reality crumbles around them, the film’s perspective shifts too. We go from a cut-and-dry found footage feature to a strange combination of dream sequences and cinematically shot whirlwinds. The couple loses all remainder of the world they were once tethered to; we, as the audience, are given whiplash with the sudden change from a personal point of view to an outside observer. Since they can no longer be in charge of their surroundings or time or even be sure if what they’re seeing is actually there, the ability to capture their misfortune is demolished. The observer is now the only one with power, much like whatever forces necessitated the figure of Mr. Jones.
The final act is so dizzying it’s hard to keep up. They are confronted by the nightmare artist who is desperately trying to grasp at them and their minds as they fight with what little they have left. What they don’t realize, however, is that their perceived enemy is trying to save them from the collapse of their world and a space that is ruled by dreams. Mr. Jones clings to Scott in a final attempt to save himself from a vortex of wind that screeches all around the cabin, but he is swept away, and the couple is left in the dark. The area all around them continues to obscure, and as they attempt to flee, Penny disappears into the abyss. Scott is urged by her dream doppelganger to return the doll he’s stolen, and in his futile attempt to right things, he descends into the basement tunnels once again.
We witness our remaining character as he is followed by hooded figures, taunted along a journey that is bound to fail. While this is the last moment of a controlled point of view – hinting that Scott has not lost all sense of sovereignty – his actions have already sealed his fate. Once the doll is put back, he lights the candles, and a strange look washes over him. He digs in his backpack and gently places a mask – the final remainder of Mr. Jones – over his face. He draws up his hood, gives the camera a last look, and accepts the new job he’s been bestowed.
Scott is now a protector, a guide, someone to warn others of the fragmented reality he has found himself in and his wife lost to. We are left to wonder, who has told this story? How did we receive the final footage, and where in this process of watching did someone else become the puppeteer? A disjointed, open-ended finale to a movie that is wildly chaotic and interwoven with confusing point-of-view changes as the characters lose themselves entirely.
Mr. Jones offers found footage fans a rare, mixed perspective approach, making for a tale that feels as fantastical as it is horrifying. Something you are meant to relate to, be involved in, and then have that truth as the eyes see it ripped away. A force at play that is allowed to toy with what is tangible and real, confusing your mind’s ability to trust itself. The concept is terrifying, and this movie’s ability to turn your head in circles enough to where you aren’t sure if what they’re witnessing is something they can actually see is a grandiose effect. Ultimately, Mr. Jones is a unique way to ask a tough question: if what you see completely opposes what you know, how will you adapt?