The House That Jack Built
Matt Dillon, Bruno Ganz, Uma Thurman, Siobhan Fallon Hogan, Sofie Grabol, Riley Keough
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It can happily sit among the ranks of extreme cinema like Cannibal Holocaust, Salo and A Serbian Film as movies very few people will be able to sit all the way through, much less enjoy.
Movies about serial killers from the perspective of the killer seem to have fallen out of favour of late, but for a short time they were all the rage. There have been some legitimately great ones over the years, Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, Maniac, American Psycho, I Stand Alone and bizarre 1992 Belgian entry Man Bites Dog, all offer compelling narratives from the point of view of a sociopath. They’re also, it has to be said, not exactly a good time. Joining this niche list is Lars Von Trier’s latest The House That Jack Built and, crikey, this one’s going to be divisive to say the least!
The story revolves around Jack (Matt Dillon) aka Mr. Sophistication (his serial killer name) who is describing his life in an offscreen narration to a mysterious second person, Verge (Bruno Ganz). Jack wants Verge to understand why he does what he does, and will illustrate his twisted philosophy in five incidents. And so, the film progresses, showing in sadistic and shocking detail how Jack killed his primarily female victims and how he managed to stay out of jail. The stories all run rather too long, as does the entire film at 155 minutes, but they’re undeniably effective. Animals are tortured, women are viciously butchered and even children fall afoul of Jack’s insatiable lust for murder. It’s extremely dark stuff, lightened somewhat by splashes of black humour, but likely to alienate all but the most hardy of audience members.
The problem with movies from a serial killer point of view is that serial killers are wankers. They’re always banging on about their half-baked personal philosophies, which are essentially masturbatory justifications for being murderous dickheads, and it becomes deeply tedious. Matt Dillon’s performance as a killer with OCD is effective, but he’s such a profoundly unpleasant and dull character that you’ll be praying for his death long before the fifth bloody incident.
Perhaps that’s the point that director Lars von Trier is making, that these empty vicious men are as vapid and shallow as they believe everyone else to be, but it doesn’t make for a good time at the pictures. Having said that, this is a well-made, well-constructed, mostly well-acted and extremely effective movie. It can happily sit among the ranks of extreme cinema like Cannibal Holocaust, Salo and A Serbian Film as movies very few people will be able to sit all the way through, much less enjoy. If that sounds like your jam, you’re in for a nihilistic treat, but everyone else is advised to stay well away from this house.