★★ out of ★★★★★
Directed by Lars von Trier
Visionary, controversial, extreme, experimental, those are the words that I would use to describe the films of director Lars von Trier before I saw The House That Jack Built in a one night only screening of the director’s cut in late November. The word I have to add now- and it pains me to write this- is boring. As a horror fan and huge fan of von Trier, this was my most anticipated movie of 2018; Lars von Trier + serial killer should have equaled cinematic gold! Sadly, that was not the case at all. Reader beware, some mild spoilers to follow…
The film is divided into 5 incidents and an epilogue and follows Jack, played by Matt Dillon as he recalls the events that have shaped him as a killer and his worldview to an unseen confidant named Verge. The first incident pits Jack against a women played by Uma Thurman. The way Thurman portrays this character is like nails on a chalkboard- she is so annoying and grates on Jack’s nerves so much you’re waiting for him to kill her- she’s asking for it, right? That is what von Trier wants you to feel but really it is so weird to watch that it didn’t set the expectations high for rest the film (and we have a long way to go). The second incident has Jack posing as an insurance agent to gain entry into a woman’s home to murder her and leads to a scene so hilarious that my entire theater audience was laughing out loud. See where von Trier is going here? First she’s asking for it, now we’re laughing at murder…stay tuned.
Incident three is where all the critics and people who obviously have never seen a Lars von Trier movie, or a horror movie, started to freak out. Jack is on the dating scene (that’s right, ladies!) and he takes the woman he’s dating and her two children out for a picnic..in a field…surrounded by hunting blinds. Shenanigans/murders ensue. This was actually the best segment but it did have a very graphic few seconds of animal mutilation was the most unsettling thing I saw in The House That Jack Built.
In incident four Jack goes to the house of a woman he once had feelings for named Jacqueline, who Jack refers to not by her name but as “Simple” because she’s stupid, duh, played by played by Riley Keough. After rattling on about what a great killer he is, Jack mutilates “Simple” in a gross and nothing other than misogynist fashion. We round out the incidents with number five where we actually see the house that Jack built (made of bodies, of course, and I have to admit it’s pretty effective) and witness the final showdown of Jack versus the police.
And then comes the epilogue where Jack and Verge are in Hell and Jack is literally trying to climb out. It’s been over 2 hours and the audience has been beaten up with symbolism and metaphor. It’s not von Trier who’s the bad guy, it’s the audience who wants to see the violence and he’s just giving us what we want. Jack is a metaphor for white men in Trump’s America getting away with, in this case, literal murder. Lars isn’t a misogynist, it’s a deep seeded issue and he’s just making art- don’t hold him accountable. The ending is unsatisfying but hey, at least it’s over.
It’s hard to ever say you “love” a film by Lars von Trier; they are often hard to watch and are not about enjoyable subjects but this one is a two and and half hour “it’s not me, it’s you” excuse/ justification for the much criticized themes of the director’s body of work, that I don’t think was needed or asked for, and was a missed opportunity to make what could have been one hell of a horror film.
If you are a fan of Lars von Trier, I recommend you watch it and make up your own mind as it is now available to rent streaming on Amazon, but if you’re not familiar with his work skip this and watch any of this other films. I am still a fan of Lars von Trier and will be in the theater for whatever he puts out next, but this was so disappointing. The buzz for this film was that it was shocking and von Trier had finally gone too far but I totally disagree with that; there are a plethora of horror films that have gone far beyond this so don’t let that be what stops you from seeing The House That Jack
The House That Jack Built is Rated R… a very hard R for gore, violence, and meanness to spare. The film is now streaming on Amazon .