Ewan Gleadow

Review: The House That Jack Built

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Courtesy of IFC Films

My disinterest in Lars von Trier and his Dogme 95 attitude has kept me well away from his work for some time now. But with his disregard for his own set of rules, von Trier is insistent on shocking and disgusting his audiences. His latest feature, The House That Jack Built, sets out to do just that. Rather than provide an interesting story, the film feels more like a series of twisted, uncomfortable vignettes that loosely follow a psychopath and his many inane killings.  

I feel like von Trier is controversial and provocative for the sake of it. Believe me, I wished his provocation wasn’t anything but hollow, shallow bait, but unfortunately it comes nowhere close to what I had expected. His message, if there is one, is glistening with gore, blood and uncomfortable imagery. If his intention was solely to sicken and disgust his audience, then job well done, but the aim of film is usually to entertain, and The House That Jack Built doesn’t provide that whatsoever. It feels more like a compendium of unrelated kills, the only connection being the same bland performance from our leading lad.  

One of the biggest issues of all is that these characters aren’t believable or really all that interesting. I like the lack of buildup to these killings, it detracts connection to the characters, but highlights the sporadic and insane attitude Jack (Matt Dillon) provides. That part of the film is great. Unfortunately, Dillon’s performance retracts a lot of this, with a poorly rounded performance that doesn’t give me all that much confidence, especially given this is the first leading role I have seen him in. The opening scenes alongside Uma Thurman set in stone the style of character Jack is, but also focus greatly on how poor the dialogue can get.  

A lot of the dialogue feels unfiltered, with Jack making it up as he goes along. This is great and all but Dillon doesn’t sell it all that well, and it’s more of an idiotic move on the part of the victims that they would believe such an uncontrollably ridiculous character. Maybe that’s the point though, but outside of that seemingly poor writing, the rest of it and specifically the description of Jack from Uma Thurman, is so on the nose and really gets the film off to a bad start. Saying he looks like a serial killer; you may as well add a cheeky wink to the camera and a nudge to the audience at that point.  

It would’ve been a lot worse if it hadn’t been directed so competently. There are moments of solid choreography, direction and performance all rolled into one. But for the most part it’s just mindless killing with no meaning or message behind it, and the performances can’t keep that afloat for two hours and thirty minutes. Don’t get me started on the ending either, I’m all for seeing the late Bruno Ganz appear in as much as possible, but I didn’t think he did all that well in The House That Jack Built.  

I can’t say I’m all that excited to watch another von Trier film after this near torture porn catastrophe. His message, if there is one, is so beyond salvaging among some strangely boring methods of death and shoddy performances. If you’re going to make a movie all about a psychopathic murderer that kills a great number of people, at least pepper in some interest and unique shots among the vulgar and often stupid deaths. Still, it’s competently made and directed at least, just a real shame that on the whole it’s an absolute stinker.