What I'm Watching: Mr. Jones
No, I do not mean to say I've been sitting around endlessly watching Counting Crows videos. What a cruel, terrible fate that would be.
Instead, I checked out a new found footage movie, Mr. Jones, and it may be one of my favourite found footage movies yet. Certainly of this year.
It starts off with a premise I can get behind. The movie is a documentary about reclusive artist Mr. Jones, whom no one has ever seen, met, heard, and even his name is made up just so he can have a name.
I love that right off the bat the movie has a reason for being a movie. It's not just a collection of some footage someone 'found' and crammed together to show us bad shit happening. The movie of the movie has a purpose, and that's always good, and is far too underused in the found footage genre. And thankfully it's also not the overdone variant of "ghost hunters looking for stuff".
Scott's documentary doesn't start off that way though. It starts off as just he and his girlfriend Penny taking a break from reality for a year to go live in a cabin and try and fix their relationship and life, while he tries to make a film about SOMEthing. He doesn't know just what that will be at the start, but once the couple discover the strange and unique scarecrows of Mr. Jones in the fields and shrubbery in the mountainous desert around them, Scott knows he has a subject; the definitive movie about this reclusive artist.
The first half of the film is filled with them first trying to figure out what to do with their movie, which I love because I've SEEN documentaries like that, starting out with, "Well what do we do??" is a great way to set things up, then it has Scott going back to civilisation to do interviews with Mr. Jones experts over his 30+ year history, art historians, professors, and people who have owned his art.
This slowly starts to deepen the mystery of Mr. Jones, only leading to more questions. Meanwhile, the shadowy figure is terrorising Penny back at the cabin (And Scott before he left, just so he's not left out).
Which brings us to the final third of the film, when everything goes crazy, and is probably what makes this a fave of found footage. Mr. Jones seems to be a figure protecting our world from the dreamworld, and Scott and Penny have upset a delicate balance with their meddling. There comes a point where they both fall into the dream world, and all the rules of found footage fly out the window.
There are no more cameras, for a large part, but footage is still being taken, the characters see themselves being filmed on the tv, and even comment on there being no possible camera where it is. They directly wave their hands through where the camera should be, and even affects the footage. It is just something so new to bring to this subgenre, it makes this movie feel really fresh, and doing something different with the tools, by breaking the rules.
Like most found footage movies, the movie has its bit of a "...Huh." ending, and doesn't entirely satisfy, but it does leave me with most of a completed story and doesn't just stop dead like so many others. The format is great, builds well, and I love how it just utterly unspools towards the end. I especially love the interviews, as they created a rich tapestry with very little to use other than words, and some of the interviewees were fantastic, including the always great Taran Fahir, whom I just love and was such a pleasure to see turn up here.
The only thing I didn't really like was Scott rigging up a camera to the camera so it would record the operator and the subject. It's a clever idea, lets you show reactions of the operator instead of just hearing them say "Oh my gooood!" for 90 minutes, but they used a wide angle lens that instead made everyone holding the camera have a big, round face and the reactions were pretty silly most of the time. Too much time spent on them mugging for the camera going "Ooooo!" and "Oh wooow!". I give them points for trying, but it didn't quite come off, possibly because of the actors trying too hard with it, and just coming off unnatural.
But I will give them points for occasionally PUTTING THE DAMNED CAMERA DOWN WHEN IT'S IMPORTANT!! A big bug about every FF movie. Fortunately, once cameras become unnecessarily, that also solves that problem later on.
Mr. Jones turned out to be a surprisingly well done and creative bit of psychological thriller by way of found footage, and yeah, it works. I wasn't expecting much going in, but I had quite an enjoyable ride. Definitely worth the time.