Film Review: THE HOUSE THAT JACK BUILT (Denmark/France/Germany/Sweden 2018) ***

The House That Jack Built Poster


Lars von Trier


Lars von Trier (screenplay), Jenle Hallund (story by)

After being banned in France for pro-Nazi remarks (there is a brief reference to Hitler as an icon after 2/3 of the film) and finally let back in, von Trier returns with a controversial film about a serial killer called Jack (Matt Dillon).  Von Trier apparently did quite a bit of research on serial killer motives for the film made.  (Hopefully, he didn’t interview them in prison.)

The film is called THE HOUSE THAT JACK BUILT because Jack attempts to build a sue but never manages to complete the task.

The film arrives laden with controversy  When screened at Cannes, a large number of the audience walked out though the film received a 10-minute standing ovation at the end.  So love it or hate it, as they say.  This goes too with the body of work – the films of Von Trier.  He has made the best films like EUROPA and THE KINGDOM while making messes of films like THE IDIOTS.

The director’s unedited cut was screened in North America for a one-showing in November and released after in an edited version.  The same went for Toronto though the date of the director’s cut screening was in December at 11 pm at the Ted Rogers Cinema.

THE HOUSE THAT JACK BUILT begins with a totally black screen in the dark where the audience can only hear voices, only barely audible.  Jack (Matt Dillon) speaks to an unknown person, Verge (voice of Bruno Ganz) and talks about his killings, art, his behaviour and logic.  The person offers him his views while also putting the film into two different perspectives.  For example, Jack talks about his killings and what it relates to while the person argues the point.  Killings by Jack are referenced to the poet, Blake with the lamb and the tiger.

The film is divided into 5 random incidents as Jack describes them taking place over a span the 12 years.  Some of the incidents include more than one victim.  The film grows more violent as it progresses.  A few unwatchable incidents include the one Jack as a boy dismembering a duckling.

Von Trier’s film is absorbing for the first 30 minutes or so, as he reveals his structure of story-telling.  The killings are sudden for shock effect with the necessary violence added in – some with the violet scenes repeated. The first kill is that of an annoying woman (Uma Thurman) whose car had a flat tire.  She taunts him constantly, even saying that the looks like a serial killer even going through the process of whether a killer would get away or not.

Arguably, the most intriguing segment is the 4th one, he nicknames Simple (Riley Keough)  that involves Jack’s romance.  Jack goes around on crutches for sympathy and easier alluring of non-suspecting victims into his car.  He tells Verge: “I have more feeling for the woman, more than psychopath would ever have..”  implying that psychopaths do not have any.

See THE HOUSE THAT JACK BUILT as a Lars von Trier curiosity.  Not many would really want to learn the truth about serial killers or care.

I would not walk out of the screening.  I would also not have given the film a standing ovation either.