Judge Gordon Sullivan prefers to spend his time with Mrs. Jones.
If you see him…run.
So-called "outsider art" became a thing in the 20th century, as artists found themselves increasingly enmeshed in a world of buyers and sellers on an "art market." In contrast, outsider artists were just what they sounded like—those outside the mainstream who made art without reference to the usual traditions. The term is a rough translation of the French "art brut," which comes from an art critic who focused on art created by those in insane asylums. Consequently, there's long been a tradition of associating artists, especially those outside the mainstream, with a dangerous madness. Mr. Jones plays with those anxieties, by throwing together a number of now-familiar horror tropes. The result is a disappointing entry in the found footage genre.
Scott (Jon Foster, Rampart) and Penny (Sarah Jones, Vegas) are having relationship issues. Obviously, the perfect thing to do is to retire to an isolated cabin together and "fix" things. Of course Scott will bring a camera to make a nature documentary, but that doesn't really work. The two are at the end of their collective rope, when they discover Scott's bag has been stolen and now resides in the home of Mr. Jones, an artist who made some creepy scarecrow sculptures in the 1970s. Penny convinces Scott that Mr. Jones would make a better subject for a documentary, though they're quickly warned such a path could be dangerous.
The problem with most found-footage films is they occupy a strange position between genuine raw footage and the fully produced documentaries they aspire to be. The question of who is assembling the footage and why is rarely addressed, so we're left with films that are both accidental and intentionally constructed to scare us or build tension. Mr. Jones makes an interesting choice in this regard, since its protagonists are making a documentary, and a failed one at that. Rather than front-loading the film with tons of exposition (like most films in the genre), it starts with the nature documentary before finding its "true" subject in Mr. Jones. This makes the second act more compelling than the first, as we're diverted and get to explore the world of scarecrow sculptures and general creepiness. The film also gives us a reason to have two cameras running, so that the film can legitimately cut from interview subject to reaction shot without breaking the found-footage illusion.
Sadly, that's not quite enough to save an otherwise pedestrian horror movie. Though the structural and visual innovations are nice (albeit minor), they are overwhelmed by otherwise tired aspects. We've got a couple we couldn't care less about who only seem to be good at fighting; an isolated location ripe for all sorts of spookiness; and a camera that just happens to stop working at just the right moments. We've seen this all before, and though the art angle is nice, it's not enough to save a film that doesn't have anything new to say.
Offering nothing new doesn't always sink a film, but Mr. Jones spoils viewers with a decent first half, before squandering it all in the home stretch. Many viewers will see the well-telegraphed ending coming early on, and even those who don't expect it will be exhausted by the film's slow and disappointing climax.
At least Anchor Bay gives the film gets a decent Blu-ray release. The 1.78:1/1080p AVC-encoded transfer does the source justice. There's some occasional weirdness with the black levels, which seem to come from some kind of visual effects work, but otherwise the detail is strong, as is color saturation. Darker scenes are generally detailed, with good depth to the blacks. The TrueHD 5.1 Surround track is pretty amazing. Sound design is very important to the film's attempts at horror, and this is a wonderful blend of dialogue and directional effects that really sell some of the more horrifying moments in ways that the rest of the film elements can't match. Sadly, there are no extras.
If you absolutely need to see another found footage horror film, or you have an interest in one of the many (primarily television) actors, by all means give Mr. Jones (Blu-ray) a rental. Otherwise, there's very little about the story or the presentation to tempt you.
If you see Mr. Jones, run.
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