The House that Jack Built Review: Von Trier creates an intriguing serial killer story that can be tough to watch for some
Lars von Trier’s new film, The House that Jack Built, has gotten some early buzz that usually comes with a von Trier film of people both feeling sick and booing as well as people giving strong praise. Divisive is easily the best way to describe his long film career, but having never seen one of his films before his latest entry, I was able to give a fresh new look at von Trier as a filmmaker. From what I’ve heard, he’s not only a filmmaker that loves to explore deeper, darker topics through rough characters, gore, and some nauseating moments, but also sometimes has topics that are about the mindsets of people. Upon leaving The House that Jack Built, I would say that the film could easily live up to divisive expectations, but I still would say that it is an excellently, almost evil watch.
The film follows the story of Jack (Matt Dillon), a very meticulous and OCD serial killer, who is recounting five random “incidents” that have occurred over the last twelve years with an entity called Verge (Bruno Ganz). Together, the two not only discuss what happened with Jack over the years and why he did it, but also discussed the state of the world and what their ideas are on art and structure.
Honestly, even after seeing the film over a week ago, it still a film that I think about and that amazes me the more I think about it. It’s a film that makes me feel conflicted as I found Jack’s journey and discussions with Verge to not only make my dislike and disgust for Jack grow, but also my interest in him. Even after Jack would do some of the most heinous acts I’ve ever seen, there was just something that still drew me into every conversation that him and Verge would have between each incident. The best way to describe this feeling is like a really bad car crash that you just can’t look away from and I mean that in the best way possible.
Perhaps, it could’ve been the absolutely stellar performance from Matt Dillon that constantly drew me in as this is easily one of the best, if not “the best,” performances of his career. He captures Jack’s crueler and more dominating personality as well as his need for perfection. This need for perfection is probably one of the most interesting things about him as it leads to some actually pretty entertaining moments. Jack’s OCD is played to hilarious perfection as he’ll do things like go back to clean up a stain he thinks is there as police sirens come closer and closer and even leave victims so that he can kill them with the right bullet.
There’s even moments when you might think there are some sheds of caring light in him, mostly in incident four, however, you quickly realize that that is absolutely not the case. There really is some vile things that Jack does that makes the film a little bit too tough to watch at times. However, this is pretty much the case for most of von Trier’s work and I definitely have to clarify that if you’re extremely uneasy or easily queasy with violence to animals and children as well as blood or gore, then it’s completely understandable to skip The House that Jack Built.
Not that this violence is unwarranted or doesn’t fit into the story of a serial killer, it just can be shocking to see for some people. Frankly, I actually found it to be kind of tame compared to the horrifying expectations that were set from film festival reactions. Don’t get me wrong, there is definitely some disturbing imagery and actions done by Jack throughout the film, but compared to the Saw series, I’m not sure if this film compares in the same way in terms of blood and gore.
Von Trier also kind of lost me at times with some of the conversation topics and conclusion for Jack’s journey. While there might have been times where I understood Jack’s side on certain ideas on society, he comes off as too condescending for me at times and the topics sometimes went on for too long that it’s tough to keep track of the point he was making. Even while I never agree with how Jack feels about the world and I found myself siding more with Verge, I still was hoping to have a clearer and more concise point for Jack’s mindset.
The topics they discuss too are actually quite relevant and interesting, even if they’ve been discussed in other films. Discussion on violence, art, and people’s lack of empathy are actually quite interesting to hear and all of his discussions and scenes with Verge parallel many moments found in Dante’s Inferno. The conclusion is also incredibly odd and while it’s mostly a fitting end for someone like Jack, it just felt a little unsatisfying and abstract to fully enjoy.
Frankly, von Trier and Dillon deserve a lot of credit for creating an engaging story about the mind of a serial killer that viewers won’t be able to look away from once it starts. It’s surely a film that will divisive among many viewers and a film that many will just skip altogether because of its vile and violent nature, but the excellent scenes and build-up through each incident easily make it an undeniably great film. It almost even gives us glimpses into the twisted mind of von Trier himself and coming out of The House that Jack Built, I can say that I find him to be somehow incredibly interesting.