From time to time, while wading through millions of unexciting, generic genre films, there's one that clicks. A film that isn't necessarily all that different from the others, but does every little detail right. It's the kind of film that gives you the courage to wrestle through the next batch of potentially horrendous genre material. Mr Jones is my latest discovery and though I can't guarantee it sits well with others, it's definitely a film that deserves a fair chance.
What happens when the art world collides with horror cinema? Usually it results in some cheesy exhibitions and a haunted object that peaks the interest of some unsuspecting passerby. Rarely it results in something exciting and/or imaginative. But Mueller finds himself a nice little niche that hasn't been explored that often before. Even though much of the setting and events are typical horror fare, the art world context does add something unique to the film.
The artist in question isn't your regular painter or sculptor either. It's a mysterious guy called "Mr Jones" who, during the 70s, started sending eerie scarecrow-like contraptions to seemingly random people. The gifts were upgraded to artworks, but the recipients quickly became obsessed with the scarecrows. A veil of mystery surrounds the artworks, ideal material for a horror film of course. As far as I can tell the entire legend is fake, but Mueller makes a convincing enough case (at least for the first part of the film).
The film follows Scott and Peggy as they move to the countryside. The couple granted themselves a year away from society to pick up the pieces of their lives. Scott sets out to make a documentary while Peggy focuses on her passion for photography. Near their cabin they discover the Jones' scarecrows and after a quick scout of their environment they bump into the hut of Mr Jones himself. From there on out, things get a little sketchy.
Mr Jones is part faux-documentary, part regular film. Having Scott shooting his own docu is a great excuse for some first-person action, but Mueller doesn't go through the trouble of fabricating a setup where the camera is always in the right position. He uses Scott's camera where appropriate, but switches back to regular film making for the parts where it's just not very convenient. Visually things look nice enough, with solid editing, moody environments (though a little dark at times) and some great shots, though it never truly stands out.
The soundtrack is good but fairly typical genre stuff. Dark ambient tracks mostly, bringing up plenty of atmosphere but always in the background. The soundtrack as a whole just isn't very noticeable. The sound design on the other hand deserves some credit, especially during the second part of the film. Things get pretty creepy and intense, while a slew of well-timed sound effects make for a denser and more tense experience.
Jon Foster and Sarah Jones are the only actors who have significant roles in the film, only in the middle are there some interviews that introduce the need for a secondary cast. Foster and Jones are good, they function well as a couple and they look genuinely frightened when all hell breaks loose, but it's clear from the start that they weren't going to win any prizes with the roles they were given. Still, they do a pretty commendable job.
While there are plenty of films who manage a decent build-up, the pay-off is always the trickiest part when it comes to horror cinema. Mr Jones delivers, with an interesting concepts and plenty of left-over mystery once the credits start rolling. Not everything is revealed at the end, but the viewer gets a pretty good overview of the broad lines. It's definitely one of the better horror endings I've seen in a long time.
It's a selection of small details that lift this film above the rest for me. The scarecrows looks genuinely creepy, the combination of a front/back camera increases the tension and the concept behind Mr Jones' character is intriguing enough to feel fresh and exciting. Audiovisual credits are up to par and the acting is decent enough. I hope Mueller gets a second chance to confirm his talent, but for now I'm pretty happy with what he put on display here. Mr Jones is one of the better films of its kind.