The House That Jack Built has a lot to unpack, so thank goodness it’s two-and-a-half hours. Movie goers can compain about long runtimes but if this movie gave us anything shorter, the film would feel cut off at the knees – a fitting analogy for a viscerally grotesque feature.
The House That Jack Built has been brought to you by notorious filmmaker Lars von Trier, who has gotten himself into trouble with his movies and press appearances, but also fills his stories with flippant subtext or a warped sense of humour to back up an opinion. Your opinion on his opinion is what he wants you to draw up while you watch his films but, again, he’s indifferent to your “hot take”. He exercises the same filmmaking in his latest feature, but it takes a lot of willpower to bear with him.
This is an extremely violent and horrifying film. You’ll keep asking yourself how this movie was even made. But, once you crack underneath its surface, you’ll find a character study that takes aim at cowardice logic behind chauvinism, as well as commentary circling the endeavours of those who make endearing horror/thrillers.
As the titular Jack, Matt Dillon is sensational. Under the direction of von Trier, he disturbs the audience with his interpretation of a seasoned serial killer. The film is structured through chapters (and an epilogue) – a screenwriting device von Trier has used before – featuring significant kills in Jack’s 12-year “career”. As a failed architect, Jack translates his murders as art pieces – an idea that purposely doesn’t fully develop but is more of a suggestion about subjectivity and ego. Through Dillon’s persona, we see a meticulous man target defenceless women while he wrestles with his own vulnerable OCD as he creates another crime scene. The explanation Jack gives about targeting weak women is a spineless theory, revealing that Jack is, in fact, weaker than his frail victims. But, unlike filmmakers who try and set up a redemption for their anti-heroes, von Trier doesn’t want us to feel sorry for Jack. Not. One. Bit.
The problem with mainstream consumption is that characters like Jack are usually watered down to seem hip; it’s a tactic to make viewers accept disgusting acts of sadism. By adding frequent uses of David Bowie’s “Fame” with slick cinematography and twisted jet black humour, von Trier is highlighting these exploitive directors (say, Quentin Tarantino and the slew of filmmaker copycats) and calling them on their supposed arrogance. A good point made by a writer/director who may, in fact, go overboard with his own nauseating examples.
In a single word, The House That Jack Built is relentless. Just when you think it pushes the envelope, it finds another line to cross. But, the film rewards patience and tolerance towards the unthinkable with intelligent, frustrated commentary on bad habits that have been disturbingly deemed as normal.
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Addison Wylie: @AddisonWylie