THE HOUSE THAT JACK BUILT Review – An Artistic Exploration Of Violence

Distributed by: IFC Films & TrustNordisk

Starring Matt Dillon, Bruno Ganz, Uma Thurman

Written by Lars Von Trier

Directed by Lars Von Trier

While The House That Jack Built won’t see a theatrical release until December, audiences had the chance to see the director’s cut for one night only. I was one of the lucky ones able to find a seat among a sold-out theatre.

If you’ve ever seen a Lars Von Trier picture, then you already have some understanding of what is to be expected; the director/writer has never shied away from bleak atmospheres and shocking violence, and The House That Jack Built has all of that. However, throughout the film’s two and a half hour runtime, there’s a lot more to unpack; for as the film progresses, one will begin to see how the story, and the character of Jack, embody the horrors of current affairs.

The film follows its titular character’s past, highlighting some of his notorious murders. The story takes place through flashbacks via a conversation Jack is having with an individual known as Verge. Broken down into five “incidents” and an epilogue, Jack retells his journey into becoming a serial killer, expressing his beliefs and process. Matt Dillon does a remarkable job playing Jack; his portrayal of a serial killer is easily on a level compared to Christian Bales’ Patrick Bateman in American Psycho.

Dillon displays uncomfortable traits of a psychopath; in one scene, he is standing in front of a mirror, looking at pictures and attempting to learn how to show emotion. Seeing him look at a photo of someone smile, and then looking into the mirror and trying to force a smile is unnerving; this feeling is more profound when you see him interact with his victims. Outside of Jack, the rest of the cast is only present to allow us to further analyze and dive deeper into Jack’s psyche. Dillon is the true driving force of the film, not only in the sense of being the protagonist but also embodying the film’s themes.

The House That Jack Built is a philosophical and politically driven film. Regarding the philosophical element, Jack and Verge conversate on the nature of Jack’s killings; in particular, Jack likens killing to that of art; he mentions how death and decay can give way to something beautiful (using grapes and wine as an example at one point). Verge is not a fan of Jack’s point, continuously speaking to the connection of art and love. That said, Jack keeps coming back to the violent nature of humankind and how we use art to act out our violence.

Politically, Von Trier makes it clear this film represents the madness and misery of our current political and social issues. Through Jack’s lack of empathy, Von Trier presents him as a being who exudes the horrific elements of violence and hate that many fear today. Von Trier has also made it a point to throw jabs at Trump (with one scene utilizing “red hats” as a reference point). There’s also a sequence where we see a slideshow of different tyrannical, fascist leaders; these images align with Jack’s point about art coming from a place of violence.

Then there’s that of Jack’s murders. While there’s plenty of heavy gore at times, there are two particular scenes that are not only jarring but may get some stomachs to turn. The camera work also does a great job establishing tension as it hovers over the faces of Jack and his prey. Beyond that of the actual violence, however, it’s more upsetting to see Jack leading up to the killings; because you know that he intends to kill, and it’s sick to see him toy with his victims.

With all of the film’s violence and grim atmosphere, there is one element that caught me off guard; for I was not expecting The House That Jack Built to have as much humor as it did. While the humor can help lighten up the mood at times, it can also build upon the tension. Watching Jack try to navigate a conversation and bullshit a victim is hilarious on the one hand, but then on the other, it’s very uncomfortable knowing what’s to come.

The film ends on an interesting note; some viewers may pick up on some clues before the epilogue, but all I’ll say is the ending takes a turn you may not expect. If you catch onto certain ideas towards the end, it’s enough to make you want to go back and ponder over the story you just witnessed.

The House That Jack Built is a worthy entry in Lars Von Trier’s filmography. Matt Dillon does a fantastic job portraying a monster that embodies the agony felt in many parts of our world. Even though we’ve had other films about serial killers in the past, The House That Jack Built is about something more significant; taking its viewer by the hand, it asks them to abandon their comfort zone and to recognize a world in darkness. In true Lars Von Trier fashion, The House That Jack Built is a tale devoid of hope, brimming with unease, and ready to shock the nerves.

  • The House That Jack Built


In its shocking violence and philosophical musings, The House That Jack Built makes for a worthy addition to Lars Von Trier’s filmography. Matt Dillon’s performance is outstanding, presenting a character with remarkable darkness. The film’s brutality and intellect make for a memorable experience that will stay with viewers long after leaving the theatre.

User Rating 5 (1 vote)


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