Director: Lars von Trier
Writer: Lars von Trier
Starring: Matt Dillon, Bruno Ganz, Uma Thurman, Soibhan Fallon Hogan, Sofie Grabol, Jeremy Davies, David Bailie,
Lars von Trier, the director of Antichrist (2009), Nymphomaniac Vols. 1 and 2 (2013) etc., has long been considered one of the most controversial directors in modern cinema, and with his latest film, The House that Jack Built, there is no suggestion that he is at all trying to refute this claim. Following the titular Jack through a desperately morbid and upsetting tale of murder, The House that Jack Built welcomes us into the mind of a serial killer in a film ranging from disturbing to downright sickening.
Divided into six main parts, - 5 'incidents' and an bizarre epilogue - The House that Jack Built spans twelve years, a period of his life which is largely narrated by an off-screen Jack as he recounts his tale to his also off-screen companion, Verge - this narration is where we begin, with Verge informing Jack that nothing he says will likely come as a shock to him; words which he will later come to swallow. The film truly serves as an exploration of Jack's twisted mind, and an examination of the various components which ultimately come to together to drive his grisly behaviour.
Matt Dillon's performance is central to this film, and what he offers as Jack is astounding, fully throwing himself into all the horrid aspects of what is undeniably an exceptionally taxing role. Not only does he narrate his character's development throughout, but he also brilliantly translates this to the screen. Our first on-screen introduction to his character is of a tightly-wound and socially-awkward man embarking on a murderous journey almost by accident. As the film progresses and the body-count rises, Dillon's portrayal slowly and deliberately morphs into one characterised by a dangerous confidence and collectedness. It is a fascinating transition to watch unfold, and arguably is a new high for Dillon's career.
The violence in the film steadily builds in a similar way, running parallel with the confidence of Jack and the enjoyment and pride he places in his work. While an early murder is seemingly provoked by a swift flash of anger, and each subsequent 'incident' (as Jack likes to refer to them) exhibits an increased level of brutality and depravity, but also an enhanced level of skill and aforethought as he continually and methodically hones his craft over a number of years.
While murder is one pillar of von Trier's film, the second pillar is art, and through his film's protagonist he intertwines the two as if they are synonymous. As such, the film is heavy with symbolism, with the story often being interrupted by sketches, wildlife footage, dynamic blueprints and more, all purposefully placed to illustrate Jack's statements and to provide natural breaks in the narrative; this is the story as told by Jack himself, and as such a first hand explanation is provided to us. Through this, von Trier explores the mechanisms behind Jack's murderous disposition - namely, an extreme form of toxic masculinity combined with severe psychopathy and a quest for perfection and beauty which coalesce into lengthy killing career. Many of the murders shown to us smash through sizeable taboos, producing some particularly unpleasantly scenes and creating some truly disturbing imagery. It seems that nothing is safe at the hands of Jack in his pursuit for artistic mastery.
By no means an easy watch, The House the Jack Built is likely to shock even the most seasoned of thriller fans. But if you can stomach some of the film's subject matter and endure the more abhorrent scenes and imagery you will appreciate an innovative and interesting story of murder and art told by an individual who regards them as very much the same thing.
In one line: Lars von Trier's upsetting descent into the mind of a killer demonstrates the same boundary pushing cinema for which the director is famous, and so it should be no surprise to find The House that Jack Built an uncomfortable but absorbing viewing experience.