THE HOUSE THAT JACK BUILT is the latest film from auteur filmmaker Lars Von Trier (Antichrist) and is a sucker punch to the face that never lets up throughout the 2+ hour runtime. The film stars Matt Dillon (Wild Things), Bruno Ganz (The Reader), Uma Thurman (Pulp Fiction), Siobhan Fallon Hogan (Men in Black), Sofie Gråbøl (The Killing), and Riley Keough (Mad Max: Fury Road).
Taking place over the course of 12 years, from the 1970s to the 1980s, the story follows Jack (Matt Dillon), an incredibly intelligent serial killer, as he narrates five murders that helped define who he is as a killer. Starting with his first kill and culminating into a surreal descent into madness, THE HOUSE THAT JACK BUILT is a phenomenal dissection into the life of a serial killer that will leave viewers stunned, disgusted, and disturbed long after the credits have rolled.
To say that THE HOUSE THAT JACK BUILT left an impression would be an understatement. This is a heavy film with many themes and it takes some time to unpack everything that Von Trier is trying to put forth. Being someone who isn’t the biggest fan of Von Trier’s work, nor of him as a person, I definitely thought I would walk out of this enraged; however, the complete opposite occurred. This film isn’t for everyone, nor would I expect everyone to love it as it’s going to easily upset a lot of people, but if you are willing to look past a lot of the gratuitous violence and imagery, you’ll find that there are some important themes at play.
The main focus of the film is on Jack’s perspective of his life and the things he has done through the use of artistic imagery along with his eventual unraveling. When I first heard of the film and learned that Matt Dillon was attached to portray Jack I remembered thinking “Hmm, that’s an interesting casting choice” but man, Matt Dillon kills it (no pun intended). Watching Matt Dillon’s portrayal of Jack was fascinating, especially the more unhinged Jack becomes and honestly, I can’t imagine any other actor in his place. Dillon delivers in spades, never shying away from the grotesque elements that unfold, and he does so in a way that is both hilarious (this film has A LOT of humor) and terrifying. To me, the number one reason that Matt Dillon works as Jack is because Dillon exudes that charming, attractive, nice guy persona that feels safe and approachable. Look at Ted Bundy, a serial killer who possessed those traits to lure women to their deaths. It’s a false sense of comfort and Dillon uses those attributes perfectly in his depiction of Jack.
When the film had its premiere at the Cannes Film Festival, controversy soon followed as close to 100 people walked out in response to the graphic violence portrayed on screen. The way I see it, if you are familiar with Von Trier’s work than you should at least have somewhat of an idea of what you are about to get yourself into. In regards to the violence, there is a lot of it and the majority of it is directed at women. We witness everything from strangulation to mutilation and at times it can be difficult to watch; however, it’s nothing worse than what any other horror movie puts out there. I will admit, there are two moments which might be hard for most viewers to handle: one has to do with an animal and the other has to do with children – if those are triggers for you then I suggest skipping this film so as to avoid upsetting imagery. With that said, I didn’t think the violence was all that shocking but that could be because I watch horror movies as my job so what I consider to be shocking will be vastly different from someone who only watches Disney movies.
As I mentioned above, there are many themes that unfold throughout the film, and one of the biggest issues that viewers had against the film was the violence towards women. I can absolutely see where people are coming from with that, but for me, I saw the film as a study on male entitlement. It’s apparent that Jack thinks less of women, even if he tries to convince us he’s an equal opportunist and fully believes that men are automatically deemed guilty no matter what they do. Jack is a perfect example of someone possessing the personality traits of the fanatical alt-right in both the way he dehumanizes women and in the way he exhibits higher levels of the “dark triad” (psychopathy, Machiavellianism, and narcissism). To me, this film isn’t Von Trier’s hating women, or Von Trier’s being misogynistic, instead my take away is that this film is a big fuck you to the whiny, entitled, privileged white men who think they can get away with everything without consequences.
Lastly, I want to touch on the ending as that is sure to leave a lot of people scratching their heads in confusion. Throughout the film, Jack is narrating five of his kills to an unseen presence, who we don’t meet till the end. At this point, the jig is up and Jack finds himself going down a rabbit hole (so to speak) drenched in surreal imagery marked by an allegorical tale. I’ll be the first to admit that it gets weird real fast but I think that’s because Von Trier’s is digging deep into our subconscious so as to unleash the many meanings that embody this film. The ending allows for a spiral of sorts, and though some of its apparent in its explanation, there’s still much to decode and dissect for our own personal interpretation. I think many will find the epilogue to be jarring against the rest of the film, but I personally enjoyed it.
THE HOUSE THAT JACK BUILT is a film that takes you on a journey – you can choose to take it at face value or you can embrace all its complexities with an open mind. I fully believe that this is Lars Von Trier’s best work, and though it will be divisive to many, it’s a film that will leave a lasting impact on each and every person that views it. THE HOUSE THAT JACK BUILT is now available to own on Blu-ray and DVD and includes bonus features such as the theatrical and director’s cut of the film, an interview with director Lars Von Trier, and more.
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