The House That Jack Built

Is aging enfant terrible Lars von Trier trolling us with serial killer flick The House That Jack Built? Or is he trying to purge something ugly from deep within himself? Maybe it's both...

Film Review by Philip Concannon | 10 Dec 2018
  • The House That Jack Built
Film title: The House That Jack Built
Director: Lars von Trier
Starring: Matt Dillon, Bruno Ganz, Uma Thurman, Siobhan Fallon Hogan, Sofie Gråbøl, Riley Keough
Release date: 14 Dec
Certificate: 18

How seriously should we take Lars von Trier’s The House That Jack Built? The film will undoubtedly be dismissed by many as a cheap act of trolling from a man who lives to provoke, while others will see it as the work of someone grappling with complex ideas and trying to purge something ugly from deep within himself. Perhaps both views are correct. This is another audacious and nakedly personal self-examination from a fascinating artist, but it’s also a film in which the man banned from Cannes for praising the Nazis finds time to extol the virtues of Albert Speer and German Stuka bombers. Even von Trier’s admirers often have to roll their eyes.

You might also be closing your eyes as serial killer Jack (Dillon) recounts five “incidents” to his off-screen companion Verge (Ganz). Jack’s killings are cruel and extravagant, but what’s disturbing about them is less the gore and more von Trier’s skill at extending the build-up to a painful degree, even finding queasy laughs in the ugliest scenarios. The second incident almost feels like an excessively violent Woody Allen skit, with the OCD-afflicted Jack repeatedly returning to the scene of the crime to make sure he’s covered his tracks before making a spectacularly botched getaway.

Other viewers might find the philosophising harder to swallow than the violence. As Jack considers the relationship between creation and destruction, he repeatedly spins off on tangents, touching on subjects as eclectic as Glenn Gould, the architecture of Cathedrals, William Blake, fermenting grapes and even von Trier’s own films. (“Wasn’t there something about a house?” Verge wearily asks after one digression.) The House That Jack Built can be exasperating, but all of this – the murders, the montages and the monologues – adds up to a complicated portrait of an artist and his art. Not everyone will want to take this journey with von Trier through his own tortured psyche, but if you do leave before the final act, you’ll miss one hell of an ending.

Read our interview with Lars von Trier

Released by Curzon