The House That Jack Built review – violence imitates art imitates violence

By Ryan Keating-Lambert


The new Lars von Trier film The House That Jack Built is packed to the brim with violence and controversy, as you may have already guessed. The director seems to be making a bold statement about the art world that starts off as intriguing but soon becomes an overexaggerated blunder that services no one but the director himself.

Jack (Matt Dillon) is a serial killer, but what exactly makes one a serial killer? The House That Jack Built takes us, and the devil, through five ‘incidents’ that define his troubled character and explore his ‘artist’ within.

This is by far the darkest you will ever see Matt Dillon, an actor who typically dawdles somewhere between comedy and drama has taken the full plunge into madness here, and some might even see the film for that alone.

Jack is an obsessive compulsive nobody who gets his first taste of murder after smacking a stranded, and rather demanding, Uma Thurman in the face with (ironically) a broken car jack.

Lars von Trier’s shaky handheld camerawork is a treat here as usual. The murder scenes are extremely unnerving and brutally realistic, but not without a sense of humour either.

However, there’s one scene involving a sniper rifle and children that is sadistic to the max, so don’t expect any ‘laugh-out-loud’ moments there. Why so gruesome, you might ask? Because that’s what Lars von Trier does.

The director, whose last films Nymphomaniac parts 1 and 2 also ruffled some feathers for their pornographic content, has always been one to push the boundaries and kind of get off on it, so to speak.

Despite being banned from Cannes a few years back for feeling ‘a bit sorry’ for Hitler, he was back at the festival this year with a Jack on the screen and a smile on his face, and none of us were really that surprised, were we?

Jack continues the director’s controversial exploration into his own psyche, and in the way that Melancholia was an artful representation of depression and Nymphaniac was his vision of sex and addiction, The House That Jack Built is a case study on the art of violence.

Every scene seems to portray the art world as a predator/prey type relationship that’s stylistically interesting if not a little overdone at times, especially towards the finale.

Von Trier also emphasises the arrogance and fame of the artist through Jack’s gradual transformation from OCD nerd to reckless psychopath. Dillon’s portrayal is interesting and probably one of the best things about this film, and he does it all to the rhythm of David Bowie’s ‘Fame’.

There are also moments that refer to famous art through history and yes, you guessed it. There’s even a reference to Von Trier himself with a brief flash from Melancholia. Whether you interpret that to be pure arrogance or simply the director sending himself up, is entirely up to you. To me, it was a little bit of both.

Like other Von Trier films, there’s a lot of narration in Jack and it occasionally borders on rambling which feels contrived and kind of pointless. I don’t think we really needed that grape lesson.

Anyway, Jack is a bit of a mess, but it’s an intriguing mess. It’s going to be one of the most talked about films this year, whether you like it or not.

The House That Jack Built is now showing in Czech cinemas.

Photo: Aerofilms

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s