Wow, people weren’t joking when they said this was a disturbing film.
Starring Matt Dillon, Bruno Ganz, Uma Thurman, Siobhan Fallon Hogan, Sofie Gråbøl, Riley Keough, and Jeremy Davies, The House That Jack Built is the latest arthouse film from controversial filmmaker Lars von Trier.
It follows Jack (Matt Dillon), a highly intelligent serial killer with OCD, who recounts five murders that define his life work.
If you’re not aware of the works of Lars von Trier, then let me warn you that they aren’t for everyone. Films like Antichrist and both volumes of Nymphomaniac pushed arthouse cinema to its limit. These are films based on realistic and nasty violence, religious metaphors and horrible people. A lot of people truly hate Lars von Trier and his creative works, and I can see why. Yes, they may be extremely hard to watch at times, but this is what cinema is all about. These films show the horrible side of humanity and the state of our world in an extremely dark way. This is why I think The House That Jack Built is one of the most unique films of 2018.
First of all, this is easily the most violent and disturbing film of 2018. Well, you would expect it to be like this considering the main character is a serial killer who calls controversial figures (such as Adolf Hitler and Stalin) great artists. We see people and our world from the perspective of Jack, who just happens to have one of the darkest minds of all time. Each of the five acts he recounts are more violent and disturbing than the last, which leads to some really graphic (but not over-the-top) material. It even gets to the point where the violent acts happen to children and an animal, which if you can’t tell, it’s disturbing. So, if you don’t like to see women (and sometimes children) get murdered in increasingly violent ways, this may not be for you.
This leads me to the performances, and I must say that Matt Dillon is brilliant! Watching him become this sophisticated serial killer results in what is not just his best performance yet, but one of the best performances of 2018. He is perfect as this serial killer with a severe case of OCD. He even manages to pull off some great dark comedy throughout, just with his delivery and facial expressions. If you’ve seen the film, the second kill is easily one of the funniest scenes in it, due to his OCD kicking in and how he “helps” the dying lady. He does an amazing job at playing this sociopath and I personally think it’s the best male performance of 2018.
Bruno Ganz was also fantastic as Verge, the man Jack is speaking to throughout the film. Both Dillon and Ganz speak to each other in between murders about art, people and the state of the world. One brilliant monologue, in particular, compares Cathedrals to murder and how some art is hidden away in the darkest corners. But as I was saying before, Ganz does a fantastic job as this mysterious man.
Everyone else from Uma Thurman to Riley Keough are great in their roles. Pretty much like any Lars von Trier film, the performances are great all around.
The cinematography from Manuel Alberto Claro is gorgeous. Considering it focuses on violence, this is a beautiful looking film. There are a lot of uncomfortable close-ups that make you feel like you’re a fly on the wall, watching these intense situations play out. You also have some shots that reference pieces of famous art, one, in particular, you can find on a poster for the film. For a film with such dark subject matter, I was pleasantly surprised with the amazing cinematography.
Now, being a Lars von Trier film, it’s expected that he will make reference to and/or self-indulge in himself. I’ve heard a lot of complaints about this, and I can see both positives and negatives with this. At times, the references to real-life atrocities, while calling them great pieces of art is really messed up, but it works in the context of this film. As I mentioned earlier, Jack has an extremely dark mind and when he calls these atrocities art masterpieces, you can see why. He is a serial killer who is obsessed with art and making reference to these things throughout works in exploring the character. This leads to a well-developed character and one who we are very strangely attached to (it’s messed up, but true).
The negative with this is that it can be a bit too much at times. When he continues to show footage of the WWII death camps and real-life killings, it can be really distressing. He also makes reference to his previous films and even shows footage from them, all while Jack is talking about his idols. It does come off extremely egotistical, but then again this is a man who loves it when people hate his work with a passion.
You can also say this is a misogynistic film, considering that Jack prefers to kill women since they “cooperate.” I can already feel that some of you may be angry at this, and I understand completely. But there are many aspects of the film that make up for this, but I should probably move on before I get slaughtered over this.
Overall, The House That Jack Built is a film that actually has the balls to touch on some very dark subject matter. Lars von Trier’s exploration of a serial killer with OCD and the current state of our world is strangely captivating and darkly funny. With Matt Dillon giving one of the best performances of the decade, and some great writing, The House That Jack Built is a film that is bound to go down in history as one of the most controversial, and most underappreciated films for its time. If you aren’t squeamish and want to be told some hard truths about our world, then you should definitely check this out.