Sunday, April 21, 2013

Tribeca ’13: Mr. Jones

They might be weird, but they are rare—hence collector interest in the work of a mysterious recluse. During a short period of production, he sent unsolicited totem sculptures to people apparently selected at random, but nothing has been heard from him in recent years.  However, one couple getting away from it all suspects they have stumbled across his cabin (or maybe lair) in Karl Mueller’s Mr. Jones, which screens as a Midnight selection of this year’s Tribeca Film Festival.

Hoping to save their fraying relationship, Scott and Penny quit their rat race gigs and bought the old cabin in the woods.  Supposedly, he will make his poorly conceived nature documentary here, but do not hold your breath.  As Scott’s behavior becomes increasingly erratic, Penny pursues her photography.  Eventually, a mysterious incident leads them to a ramshackle cottage they never noticed before.  Against the audience’s better judgment, they skulk into the basement, which is fully stocked with grotesque scarecrows that Penny identifies as the work of Mr. Jones, the legendary outsider artist of all outsider artists.

Realizing they have a scoop on their hands, the couple immediately starts work on a Mr. Jones doc.  He briefly returns to New York for a few days, filming expert interviews, thereby establishing Mr. Jones’ backstory.  Meanwhile, weird things are afoot at the cabin and Mr. Jones’ role in it all is not exactly clear.  Before long, Scott and Penny are up to their necks in malevolent supernatural chaos.

The basic premise of Mr. Jones is intriguing and the gallery world details are quite intelligently written. As Scott and Penny, Jon Foster and Sarah Jones come across like a believable couple and sell the eventual bedlam reasonably well.  Yet, perhaps the most important contribution comes from scarecrow artist Pumpkinrot, whose creations totally set the right mood. Unfortunately, the nightmarish third is too murky and rather repetitive.  Still, Mueller helms the subtler early did-you-just-see-that scenes with a deft hand.

Like most horror movies, Mr. Jones kind of loses it down the stretch, but it boasts an above average set-up and a consistently eerie atmosphere.  It should at least be a break-out film for Pumkinrot and also help Mueller atone for co-writing the wildly unpleasant The Divide.  Recommended with confidence for genre fans, Mr. Jones screens again this Wednesday (4/24) during the 2013 Tribeca Film Festival.