Warning: The following contains spoilers both for The Joneses and Inception.
I must confess, Duchovny or no Duchovny, I missed this one coming out at the cinema. Slipping quietly under the radar in April, The Joneses barely got any publicity and had a relatively limited release – perhaps surprisingly for a vehicle involving both David Duchovny and Demi Moore.
It’s an ordinary tale of everyday folk in a ridiculously rich American suburb. Everybody has everything they could ever want. That is, until the day that Steve (Duchovny) and Kate Jones (Moore) turn up. Because Steve and Kate have more than everything. They have things which have probably never come into your definition of ‘everything’.
And once you think you’ve seen everything that would come into their definition of everything, more things start appearing. Another car? Check. Another designer label? Check. A golf simulator which fills an entire room and allows you to play Pebble Beach from the comfort of your own home? It’s in the basement.
Their kids are perfect. Their house is perfect (and gigantic). Soon, everybody in town wants to be around them, dress like them, shop like them, drive like them, maybe just be them.
After ten minutes, you may deduce that all is not quite what it seems. And your creeping suspicion is likely to turn into horror when ‘daughter’ Jenn (Amber Heard) leaps into bed with ‘father’ Steve and tries to sleep with him.
I’ll come back to this incident later, but to keep the explanation of the overall situation short: The Joneses are a marketing tool, a unit sent by a company called LifeImage Enterprises wanting to sell “lifestyle and attitude” to people with more money than sense.
They’re being individually rated on how many sales they generate, reporting back to a rather unforgiving older woman who threatens to take them off the job if they’re not up to scratch.
It’s a relatively simple premise which is revealed fairly early on. The remainder of the tale is about what happens when life gets in the way of the best-laid plans of mice and rampant consumerism.
And you know what? It’s fantastic. I was engaged after five minutes, captivated after ten, worried like hell after fifteen. The nasty, creepy feeling which developed in my stomach was far stronger than I’ve had from any horror film I’ve watched recently, as it became obvious that not a single character still had the integrity they were born with.
The desperate need to fit in, to consume, to do whatever it is that drives people to acquire things they don’t need and then semi-willingly maintain a state of misery until the next ‘hit’… it’s all horrifyingly apparent, not least in the Jones’s next-door neighbours, who are trying to be in control on the ‘selling’ side but can’t seem to stop ‘buying’.
Jenn’s muttering of “If you’re not going to do him, why can’t I?” when she’s been dragged off Duchovny is indicative of a mind which has stopped recognising people and only sees objects to be used and consumed (this could probably have been explored further, but you’ll get the point).
There are no teams here, just ‘cells’ of individuals who are expected to erase themselves and take on whatever programming is necessary – who, in turn, carry out exactly the same procedure on their targets.
The idea of reality becomes increasingly distorted: people don’t know who they are or what they want any more, and are happy to wander around in someone else’s construct. Ideas are subtly planted and evolve into all-consuming desire at the expense of spontaneity and uniqueness.
There are some remarkably odd parallels with Inception here, but where Cobb’s team has something to be achieved, there are no reasoned goals for this lot – everyone’s simply waiting for someone else to tell them what they ‘should’ be doing. There’s a scene where Steve sits in the kitchen and spins a coin, vacantly watching as it makes its way across the table. You might find yourself wondering if it’s going to topple.
Sadly, the ending isn’t great, but in all likelihood you’ll feel like you’ve got your money’s worth by then. It’s just a shame that the writers couldn’t stick to their guns to the conclusion.
The wonderful irony about this is the 95 minutes of product placement being used: it’s necessary, and yet does exactly what’s being touted as unhealthy. They knew what they were up to, and you’ll experience the slight pain associated with trying to keep horror and a wry smile on your face simultaneously.
It’s a real pity this went unnoticed the first time around. For The Joneses is quietly brilliant.
The Joneses is out now and available from the Den Of Geek Store.