I just saw Lars Von Trier’s new film The House That Jack Built at FIN: the Atlantic International Film Festival. I’m not extremely familiar with Von Trier’s other work (I love Antichrist, and Dancer in the Dark is one of the most depressing films I have ever seen), but I have still been looking forward to this one since its premiere at Cannes in May of this year. The subject matter piqued my interest and the trailer looked great. The early reviews got me even more invested as everyone was saying it was Von Trier’s most disturbing and violent film yet. Not sure what that says about my taste in film.
The House That Jack Built is fairly brutal, yet oddly comical (if you can look past the disturbing material) and wildly entertaining. I was not expecting it to be as funny as it was considering all of the ‘hype’ around the film’s dark brutality since its screening at Cannes. Having said that, there are some extremely gruesome and disturbing scenes which are very effective in what they set out to do (mainly to invoke disgust). The film portrays the violence in a fairly realistic manner and does not hold back. At all. Seriously, the movie is not for the faint of heart. But it never came across as gratuitous or ‘edgy’. It felt like Von Trier was just showing us what these scenarios would look like if a serial killer viewed his killings as art.
The film is divided into 5 sections plus an epilogue. A strange structure but ultimately I think that it benefited the film as we see a gradual progression of Jack’s character throughout. Though it can feel a bit repetitive at points, it never gets boring and is continuously engaging. I was seriously thinking throughout the film “I could watch Matt Dillon manipulate people for hours”. Which brings us to the star. Matt Dillon is really excellent as the truly psychopathic serial killer Jack. It was honestly probably the best role I’ve seen him in. Why is he only in a film once every like 2 years? He’s fantastic.
There are many philosophical discussions about the nature of art throughout the film. This can either come off as super pretentious or can actually add substance to the film. I thought it worked fine in the context of the film as it relates very much to the character of Jack and how he views himself and his, so to say, ‘art’ (except for one part which took me out of the film and felt like Von Trier masturbating to himself). The discussions help bring a different visual style to the film and break up the 5 sections which adds a better ‘flow’ to the story’s pacing.
If you’re a fan of Von Trier’s work, then definitely try and see this one. Even if you’re just a fan of disturbing art films, check it out. But go in cautiously. Do not go into the film without any idea of who Von Trier is or if you have a weak stomach. Other than those cautions, I highly recommend it.