The House That Jack Built
dir-scr Lars von Trier
prd Louise Vesth
with Matt Dillon, Bruno Ganz, Uma Thurman, Siobhan Fallon Hogan, Sofie Grabol, Riley Keough, Jeremy Davies, Ed Speleers, David Bailie, Cohen Day, Rocco Day, Osy Ikhile
release Den 29.Nov.18,
UK 14.Dec.18, US 28.Dec.18
18/Denmark Zentropa 2h35
The House That Jack Built
You look like a serial killer: Thurman and Dillon

keough davies speleers
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
The House That Jack Built Ever the provocateur, Lars von Trier gets under the skin of a psychopathic serial killer in this offbeat, blackly comical horror epic. It's unsurprisingly audacious in its psychology and violence, skilfully directed and acted, with moments of bracing insight added to scenes that are the stuff of nightmares. Then after trying to earn our sympathy, the film dives into a bizarrely meandering conclusion.

In inky blackness, Jack (Dillon) recounts five incidents from his life for Verge (Ganz). A psychopath in late-70s Oregon, Jack has learned how to express empathy to get closer to victims, whom he kills and poses for photos. Targets are fairly random, including the girl (Keough) he falls for. He talks about the women he kills, but he also targets men and children in seriously brutal ways that he sees as artistic expression. The question is whether he's bartering with Verge for a place in heaven or simply explaining why he belongs in hell.

The film is skilfully assembled with cutaways including animations, home movies, film clips and flashbacks to Jack as a child. Although disturbing, these clips never explain how he became such a callous killer. And scenes of each incident are matter-of-fact, with a handheld immediacy. Von Trier seems interested only in Jack's chilly reactions to his crimes, the pleasure that shifts into pain in a cycle he feels helpless to break. So the film is challenging us to feel something about this man who can't feel anything.

Dillon is riveting as this engineer who sees himself as an architect, but can't decide which material to use to build his dream house. He's arrogant, careless and obsessive-compulsive, and not a particularly smart serial killer. He's also disarmingly funny, mainly due to his nutty obsessions about everything from cleanliness to, ahem, taxidermy. Everyone around him feels bracingly authentic, clumsy people unaware of Jack's brutality until it's far too late.

Jack's conversations with Verge come full-circle in the epilog, an extended sequence that's too digitally bonkers to work properly. But by maintaining this askance perspective, von Trier never lets Jack or the audience off the hook. While Jack continually tries to justify his actions as art, the film counters with the idea that this kind of random violence is the very opposite: without love, art is merely destruction. But then, everyone who sees this film will come away with a different opinion. Few filmmakers are this good at getting our minds spinning.

cert 18 themes, language, violence, nudity 31.Oct.18

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© 2018 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall