“The House that Jack Built” tells the story of Jack (Matt Dillon) a failed and bitter architect with OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder) who also happens to be the serial killer “Mr. Sophistication”, as he narrates several of his killings.
Lars Von Trier is not a filmmaker I generally like or agree with. Nihilistic, extreme, depressing, vile, evil and more than occasionally pretentious are all terms that have been linked to him, his movies clearly not made to be “enjoyed”. However, I can’t help but admire the man and cannot deny that he’s a brilliant and ambitious visual artist that attempts to push boundaries with each new film.
And push boundaries he has with “The House That Jack Built”, which finds the controversial director sharing a cruel, visceral and funny vision exploring the inner workings of a serial killer within a world that just doesn’t care anymore.
Split into five segments, or “incidents” as Jack calls them, the film is truly an exercise in enduring horrible torture, violence and mayhem at the hands of this emotionless, self centered psychopath with delusions of grandeur.
It’s also pretty damn funny. From Jack pulling a corpse unknowingly spilling blood everywhere while David Bowie’s “Fame” plays to him pausing a mass murder while he tries to get the perfect bullet for the job, the film has a truly sick sense of humor and might find yourself giggling on more than one occasion.
And you will feel bad about that. And so you should.
After all, Von Trier posits that men like Jack may exist because we allow them to. If one of his victims pleads for help screaming out her apartment window to only be met with absolute silence, indifference and the mocking screams of the would be murderer taunt her, are we as a society, not just as guilty for not acting?
Through each narrative you get the feeling that Jack is either the luckiest human alive or the people surrounding him are ignorant to the truth in front of them. Either way, it’s a fascinating exploration of indifference, divine justice and even the afterlife.
As always, Von Trier has a great cast to help him with Matt Dillon doing a fantastic job as Jack, expertly portraying him as charismatic and charming but never making you forget that behind that fake smile lies a cold-blooded killer. He also perfectly balances the comedic nature of the film while never ceasing to be a scary figure.
As for supporting roles, Dillon is surrounded by some notable performances from Bruno Ganz, Uma Thurman (with a small yet memorable role) and Riley Keough.
If there is any disappointment to be found, it would be in the at times mundane photography, at least based on what is usually delivered from Von Trier.
Although the film is expertly edited and shot, it’s not really until the last 30 minutes that visuals are turned up to 11 to present some of the most beautiful shots in any film from 2018 in a third act that takes the movie in a completely surreal and fantastic direction.
Finally, at almost two and half hours, one can certainly make the case that at least any of these “incidents” could have been excised without losing anything meaningful as well as greatly helping the pace of the whole piece.
An extremely dark, sickening, funny and fascinating exploration of violence, art, film, society and even Von Trier himself, “The House That Jack Built” is well worth a watch for any admirer of the Danish filmmaker. That is, if you have the stomach to go all the way to the end.