Mr. Jones (2013) Dir. Karl Mueller
Mr. Jones is a movie, along with some upcoming titles, that I’ve already spoken about on the podcast, but I also want to put a few thoughts down on paper, so to speak. And no, this is not the 1993 Richard Gere/Lena Olin drama directed by Mike Figgis. This is a 2013 found footage film about a mysterious and reclusive artist, ala Banksy, who literally enchants people with his art. The primary protagonists, and to a degree antagonists, are Scott and Penny, a young couple who give up everything to focus on making a documentary about the infamous “Mr. Jones.” Well, Penny is the one who really gives up everything for her husband, as it is his dream to become a respected documentarian.
What I liked, no, really liked about this movie is how surreal and unsettling the movie became throughout the course of the narrative. We see a happy couple at the beginning of the movie, their interview subjects, and then the eventual unravelling of Scott and Penny. And the unraveling really happens for one of the two more than the other. Each has his or her own moments where it all seems to be coming apart, but luckily, one anchors the other back into reality. For as much fighting and distrust that appears throughout the recorded relationship between Scott and Penny, I found some tender moments between them that shows how committed they are to one another, which is refreshing in a horror film.
The characters worked for me, and I know that others have not been as kind to the characters, and I can see why. They are sort of this amalgam of border Gen X-Gen Y sensibility, with a touch of self-reliance and a dash of self-entitlement that often spells “YAWN” for me when I see one of these two tropes played out, and I am usually turned off by these types of characters. But as stated before, these two really help each other out and balance or temper those qualities in each other. And for me, a perfect example of the entitlement aspect of Scott’s personality is shown when he stumbles upon of Mr. Jones’s lairs within an underground tunnel system. Scott finds these stick figure sculptures that have enraptured the art world for decades, only to decide that he should have one of the artifacts for himself. He decides to steal a stick figurine made to look like a swaddled baby, complete with some tiny votive candles for glowing eyes. The figurine was placed on an altar of sorts, set up to resemble an offering or possible ceremonial purpose. I commented on the podcast that for me, this scene was a representation of a colonial intrusion upon the Native’s cultures and eventual white-washing and desecration of said culture. Sure, I’m probably being a little too SJW for the scene, but it was interesting scene for me to experience and interpret.
As the movie comes to its climax, we are treated to a dizzying sequence that borders on fantasy and reality, a hefty dose of magical realism perhaps, and I was mesmerized. For me, some of the best speculative horror notions are born from the questioning of reality versus unreality, not fantasy per se, just an “un” reality. I commented that the scenes reminded me of David Lynch, specifically some of the scenes in Twin Peaks that deal with the two lodges, and even the transfiguration scenes of Lost Highway. Mr. Jones, for me, is a real delight in how simple it begins, and when we see people both mesmerized and traumatized by the work of Mr. Jones, coupled with the insistence of Scott and Penny, we get a satisfying dramaturgy of magical realism and horror, captured through the lens of the found footage genre.