Film review: The House That Jack Built (2018) (spoiler-free)

 

 

 

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This is a review of the unrated “director’s cut” version. Love him or hate him, Lars von Trier’s latest is a venture into psychological horror and displays a dark sense of humor. Lacks the emotion of 2013’s Nymphomaniac, a film it has a few things in common with, in terms of shocks and the lead in a lengthy dialogue with another character. Takes you inside the mind of psychopathic serial killer Jack, played by Matt Dillon in his best role in years.

The story is entertaining but uncomfortable and one of the most disturbing scenes to me could be when the blonde talks to the cop. With these type of violent films, I hope there are no maniacs who are inspired to copy the images on screen although what we see could also be viewed as a deterrent. It’s possible the film is a response to the controversial Melancholia press conference at Cannes in 2011, by reinforcing that Lars von Trier is interested in when art clashes with evil, and that he has a pitch-black, easily misunderstood wit, which is not for everyone. For example the hilarious OCD cleaning or Uma Thurman’s “you look like a serial killer” conversation with Jack in the van. This is really a horror comedy even if it really shouldn’t be a laughing matter. I’ll get back to that.

Serial killers (like filmmakers) display their creativity through their acts, and the film has unforgettable visuals. Is this a masterpiece by Lars von Trier or a pretentious, self-indulgent ego trip? Hard to say and I haven’t really decided how I feel about it. Important to discuss murder in society through art, and I wouldn’t want the director to censor his vision, although I felt he went too far in some sequences. Just because you have the power to put things on film doesn’t mean you should. In a similar vein to Haneke’s Funny Games, The House That Jack Built addresses the audiences enjoyment with horror. Encouraging laughs and thereby reminding us we are uncomfortably “enjoying” the events. I guess you could argue humor can be located in everything and I feel Lars von Trier is manipulating with the audience. The contradiction of spending time with a despicable character you would never want to meet in real life. That is what movies can do, take you to a place that is completely different to your own experience. So as to try and understand the thinking of even the most evil minds.

But is the film saying anything new? Certain elements did feel familiar to other films in the genre such as American Psycho, though I will say there’s certainly a discussion about art and evil which appears to fascinate von Trier, and the film will undoubtedly be analysed in every way moving forward. Complaining that the film is cold and sadistic I think is missing the point because it’s designed that way. I wouldn’t recommend to all, but if you appreciate his prior films you’ll be wanting to watch. Divisive, daring cinema, as you’d expect from the Danish auteur. As with the director’s other horror Antichrist (2009), excluding viewers with its unpleasantness.

 

 

What do you think? As always, comments are welcome

19 thoughts on “Film review: The House That Jack Built (2018) (spoiler-free)

  1. I really wanted to go see it a couple of months ago (for some reason they released it here in September), but then I read the parents guide on IMDb and I do not think I can stomach that haha. I don’t mind super-violent films, but the things I read are pushing the boundaries a bit too much for me. Maybe I’ll go see it when I grow some balls 🙂

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    1. @Film4Fan: I would label THTJB extreme cinema but strangely funny as well. Fair enough if it’s not for you. I found some aspects repulsive yet stayed with me and I’m still thinking about it two days later

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  2. Loved reading that you compared this to Funny Games as addressing us(the audience) love of violence. I know the version I’ll get will be the slightly edited version which I’m fine with as long as the intensity is still there

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    1. @The Vern: Thanks for reading. Yeah, there’s even a homage (as I see it) to Haneke’s famous rewinding scene.
      I hope the edited version you see is as good as the 2h 35min director’s cut. If not, I’m sure the longer version will surface later.

      I’ll give the podcast on von Trier’s career a listen that you feature on

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  3. I want to see this so badly. I want to see it in all of its glory no matter how insane it is. It’s von Trier. The man lives to rile people up. Anyone who got upset over what happened at Cannes with this film pretty much gave him what he wanted. It’s a shame the unrated version was only shown once and that the MPAA are angry about it. Well, they’re about to get into a fight they’re not going to win.

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  4. @ninvoid99: Apparently the cinemas are not so strict over here in Denmark. It’s a shame you won’t be able to see the full version right away. Von Trier doesn’t hold back and as I said in the review is kind of a continuation of the style of Nymphomaniac

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    1. @stephen1001: There’s a bit of American Psycho in terms of story and humor but Jack and Patrick Bateman are pretty different. Matt Dillon’s acting is subtler and restrained whereas Christian Bale’s performance was quite animated.

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  5. I enjoyed reading your thoughts too. At first I wanted to see this film, but then something stopped me. I love and even a bit of a fan of Lars Von Trier’s Melancholia and Antichrist, but did not particularly like Nymphomaniac, did not find any emotion there. If this film is along the lines of American Psycho, Antichrist or Funny Games, I don’t mind it at all, but I have heard that The House that Jack Built goes beyond the director’s usual violence and some description of some violence in other reviews disturbed me a bit. I am still on the fence because I would like to retain whatever amount of sanity I still have in me lol 🙂

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    1. @dbmoviesblog: Thanks for taking a look at the review. Perfectly understandable if you don’t want these disturbing images in your head as they could give people nightmares! I’m not sure if THTJB is the directors most violent but it could be. Even Lars von Trier said in a Danish interview that he felt he had made a “damned sick movie”

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  6. Although not generally a fan of violence for violence sake, I think it depends on who’s behind the film. Like Mandy recently. There’s more to it. Anyhoo, I’m very interested in this one.

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    1. @J: Still early days so the jury is still out on the meaning of the film and the violence. If you are in the camp who thinks Lars von Trier is a misogynist this latest film will confirm your suspicions as its ultra misogynistic. Or perhaps, as he is prone to do, the troublemaker director is teasing the viewer. By saying it is not Lars von Trier’s opinion on women, but typical behaviour for a serial killer like Jack to go after vulnerable females.

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  7. Excellent review. “Complaining that the film is cold and sadistic I think is missing the point because it’s designed that way.” Yes, fully agree. For me, the main problem of this movie wasn’t the violence, because, as you say, that is all by design, but it is von Trier’s growing insistence on being self aware. I’m talking about the extended montage about art, in which clips from most every von Trier film is shown, as to suggest his work, perhaps above most all others, is such high art. I found that more off-putting than the violence, to be honest. But, still, this was one hell of a deranged film!

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    1. @Alex Withrow: Thanks, I actually watched a 30 min interview with Lars von Trier talking to Peter Schepelern (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QG0ulhPJwuc ) in which Trier said was for financial, practical reasons he used his own films in the montage and would have been too costly/difficult to use clips from other director’s work. The montage could be perceived as big-headed though and he admits at 9.02 in the interview it’s pompous from his side

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  8. I have this on the radar and when you say it’s Matt Dillon’s “best roll in years”. I will eventually check it out. Dillon is very good when the material is there. I like a lot of his work ( Factotum, City of Ghosts) and this sounds interesting. Thanks Chris.

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    1. @CBH: I agree when Matt Dillon is given the chance to shine he does. My favorite of his performances is as Rusty James in 1983’s Rumble Fish. He’s pretty great in House That Jack Built as well though the film is probably too offensive for awards consideration.

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