The House That Jack Built review: Lars Von Trier’s examination of a serial killer lands in Cannes, and yes, he’s back making more waves at France’s famous film festival.
The House That Jack Built review by Paul Heath.
So, Lars Von Trier returns to Cannes seven years after his ban from the festival. His ‘persona non grata’ from the Melancholia press conference back in 2011 has been well reported, but he’s been let back in with his new film The House That Jack Built, even though it screens out of competition at this year’s festival.
The House That Jack Built, a 155 minute opus, originally conceived as an eight-part television series, follows a serial killer, the Jack of the title (Matt Dillon), over a period of 12 years and five very specific ‘incidents’. We have a two-man voiceover accompaniment – Jack, and a character going by the name of Virgil (Bruno Ganz).
We learn very early on that Jack has committed at least 60 murders. He has money, from an inheritance, a fact again learned in the opening scenes, money he’s putting to good use by building an idyllic house near a lake – but he can’t quite perfect it. He constantly pulls the house down and rebuilds, his skill as an architect – or is it engineer – put to good use in perfecting his vision. His first victim is Uma Thurman’s stranded road traveler (credited as ‘Lady 1’), an albeit annoying individual who insists that Jack take her to a nearby blacksmiths to weld back together the jack needed to fix her car. This, obviously, ends in tragedy, and so we’re off on a two-and-half hour plunge into the mind of a vicious psychopath, Von Trier sparing us no gory details on his rampage through the state of Washington over a 12 year period.
The film is vile. Reports of 100 walkouts during its initial premiere in Cannes no exaggeration, and then there were the countless people leaving the auditorium the following day during its main press screening, one woman even sticking her middle finger up at the screen in the Palais as she exited – and that was before some of the film’s most shocking moments.
We’re spare the details, but consistent women and child mutilation are not off the menu, neither is the suffering of a poor duckling, a younger Jack seen pinching off one its feet before releasing it back into the lake to watch it struggle to swim away. Von Trier knows exactly which buttons to press, and not only does he press them, but absolutely hammers down on them hard, drawing out the torture to make us suffer for longer than needed. the running time playing out at a snail’s pace – long it is, and you feel every one of those 155 gut-wrenching minutes.
One thing’s for sure, Dillon is magnificent in a very brave role to take on – he may even be at a career best as Jack, but a stand-out performance is such a film that will be so lambasted over the coming moths leading to release, it’ll be interesting if any recognition comes its way.
As horrible and cruel as the film is, it’s hard not to applaud the technical aspects and indeed the fact that Von Trier is a very good filmmaker. The final fifteen minutes of The House That Jack Built sees the film shift gears into a different realm – for the good – but because of the rampant, harsh, very difficult to watch, very long build-up, Von Trier can’t be forgiven.
It’s very difficult to sit on the fence in terms of opinion of a Von Trier, and this is the filmmaker at his most polarising. The House That Jack Built is an uncompromising, barbaric, distressing watch, and one very difficult to stomach. Just the way Lars likes it.
The House That Jack Built review by Paul Heath, May 2018.
The House That Jack Built was reviewed at the 2018 Cannes Film Festival.