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Review - The House that Jack Built

By midlandsmovies, Feb 18 2019 09:43PM

We have two unique takes on The House that Jack Built with Mike Sales and Marek Turner going head to head on Lars Von Trier's latest. Do they agree? Read on to find out...

The House that Jack Built (2018) Dir. Lars von Trier

The latest film from Danish director Lars von Trier (Dogville; Antichrist; Nymphomaniac) was never going to be one for the masses but once again through the casting of well known mainstream names, in this case Matt Dillon - in his best performance for over a decade - and Uma Thurman amongst others, he ensures a a healthy amount of interest and cinematic distribution.

Laughed at and lauded in equal measure when it debuted at Cannes in 2018 the film follows the seemingly hapless Jack as he descends not only into madness but also hell over a period of twelve years and multiple homicides.

Now although this sounds relatively straight forward, due to having such a duration to cover the film is split into non linear segments taken throughout the years, each representing a pivotal moment in Jack’s life and which is narrated over by the figure of Virgil (Bruno Ganz), in a nod to Dante’s Inferno to which this film is heavily indebted in terms or concept. Through these segments we delve deeper into the mind of Jack and his alter-ego, both of which manifest themselves through the films varying tone and visual appearance.

Arguably playing as a dark comedy for the majority of its time, with a touch of social criticism, it is in these tonal shifts that the audience will either be won over or lost but for those that go along for the ride they will discover a lot more under the surface in this tale of violence, satisfaction and repentance. With that final point being taken by some as a form of atonement by the frequently ostracised director and through the use of his own back catalogue and past behaviour it is certainly easy to see why.

Harking back to a period where every artistic decision, depiction or mise en scène was symbolic von Trier knows his craft well enough to show us the material to interpret the meaning ourselves. Undoubtably The House That Jack Built is self-indulgent and arguably pretentious sometimes but it is also well-written, entertaining and with layered deeper meaning. Dare we even say it is sophisticated. but here it is up to us to interpret in the main.

Working on several levels this film is one for those who like to spend the time digging a little deeper but whether it is ultimately worth it only you will know.


Marek Turner

And another! Midlands Movies Mike Sales writes...

Polarising director Lars von Trier returns with another controversial film that follows a serial murderer’s 12-year killing spree with all the subtlety the filmmaker is known for.

It begins with middle-aged Jack killing a woman whose car has broken down and taking her body to be hidden in a freezer. He later pretends to be an insurance salesman in a leafy suburb to enter another woman’s home whom he awkwardly strangles. This time Jack is unable to flee the scene owing to his obsessive cleaning but soon manages to escape. More incidents pile up with the murder of a family on a hunting expedition, a woman whom he confesses to and lining up a group of kidnapped victims to kill them with one bullet.

Jack is played excellently by a dark, and sometimes darkly comic, Matt Dillon and the expected pretentiousness begins with auteur chapter headings – yawn. However, at times the film is far more conventional for large portions of its runtime, although this being von Trier, he intersperses the splatter gore with his own essay on the nature of man and violence.

Provocative von Trier doesn’t hold back with scenes of child murders, female mutilation and ruthless attacks yet he “justifies” these sickening incidents with a voiceover throughout (Bruno Ganz as ‘Verge’).

This "conscience" pontificates on a number of quasi-religious themes and primal fears in essay form. Does this literary motif bring von Trier’s work up to the status of art? Not really. The gruesome deaths could be from any b-movie horror but for me it was Dillon’s mesmerising performance that sees this one through.

As the film conclusion rolls around, von Trier dives off the deep end as we enter a literal Dante’s Inferno. Far too long and with a kind of hollow-seriousness, the mixture of dark subject matter, visceral filmmaking and attempts to say something about human nature are all typical fare for the director.

That said, there’s enough here to maintain interest (just) but clear a bit of time - it's 155 minutes long - as well as headspace, for all the horrific ideas von Trier throws at the wall. Although ugly, these will mostly stick in your mind as the director delivers his trademark nihilistic world view using grotesque visuals.


Mike Sales

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