Originally released in 2013, Mr. Jones is the debut of Karl Mueller, who wrote and directed the movie. Although the movie starts off as a found-footage horror movie, Mr. Jones progresses into the realm of terror, exploring what constitutes reality and why we as humans fear the onion-layered dimensions of places like “dream” and the thin veils that separate these so-called realities.
Most viewers will not be prepared for the philosophical exploration that makes up the bulk of this movie, primarily because of the found-footage conceit. I say conceit because Mueller himself eventually abandons the found-footage approach toward a more straightforward movie experience during the film’s climax. It is unfortunate that Mueller did not go ahead and just make the movie through a third-person viewpoint, as it would have made it a much more powerful experience.
The film’s title is interesting. It may have something to do with Bob Dylan’s “Ballad of a Thin Man,” written in 1965. In that song, a “Mr. Jones” wanders through “life,” experiencing strange situations. The more he tries to understand the world, he less he can come to terms with what it is. The song’s key theme, expressed several times, is as follows:
“Something is happening
But you don’t know what it is
Do you, Mister Jones?”
The story begins with Scott (Jon Foster) and Penny (Sarah Jones) leaving the city and embracing the expansive nature of the woods. The couple has rented a cabin so that Scott can film a nature documentary. But not is all as it seems (a key theme of the movie), as it turns out that there is tension between the two, principally because Scott has not been productive as late.
Unbeknownst to Penny or Scott, the reality of what they have accepted as the waking world begins to unravel. A subtle hint at the source of the unraveling is that Scott has elected to no longer take his medication, which indeed may be behind what follows.
Scott and Penny begin to argue, and it is this tension that leads Scott to spend time alone in the woods, where he encounters a robed man looking like “The Hermit,” the ninth trump card in the Tarot (and featured in Led Zeppelin IV). What is interesting is that is card represents introspection, reflection, isolation, and searching within. This hermit steals Scott’s backpack while he is filming. Both Scott and Penny seek it out and find themselves at an isolated cabin filled with what are called “scarecrows,” weird artifacts made from bones, reeds, wire, and other pieces of junk. Scott ventures into the cabin’s basement, where he finds even more elaborate scarecrows.
Retrieving the backpack, the couple returns home. Penny then realizes that the scarecrows are the work of Mr. Jones (Mark Steger), an elusive artist who sends these figures to random people around the United States. The two hit upon the idea of creating a coffee-table book of these never-before-seen scarecrows, as well as a documentary of the artist and his work. While Scott returns to New York to interview curators, art experts, and those who have received these figurines, Penny stays at the cabin, photographing Mr. Jones as he plants scarecrows in random places in the forest.
The remainder of the film has Scott discovering that recipients of the figurines now live in mortal terror, which leads him to discuss the philosophical implications of the scarecrows. It seems that these scarecrows serve as totems that guard the real-world Earth from succumbing to other dimensions, particularly the realm of nightmare. Returning to the Cabin, Scott begins to fall into the realm of nightmare, with Penny struggling to wake him. In a critical sequence, Penny accidentally contributes to the demise of Mr. Jones, meaning that there is no shaman who can seal the breach. It then falls upon Scott to assume the shaman role, in essence becoming the next Mr. Jones.
Nowhere at literal as Dreamscape or The Cell and more in keeping with movies like Jacob’s Ladder, Mr. Jones serves up a heaping helping of nightmares literally coming true. There are hints that perhaps Scott is at one point sleeping, and that he has even murdered his girlfriend and is using the whole shaman mumbo-jumbo to justify his experience. However, the movie never lets up, concluding with Scott assuming the solitary role of hermit, forever working to keep the nightmares at bay.
Horror fans interested in exploring the realm of terror rather than horror will enjoy Mr. Jones. The movie is short on guttural scares, but if given a chance, provides some terror-laden ideas regarding the nature of the human mind and its ability to imagine things far more terrible that can even be seen.