Movie review: The House That Jack Built

“Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.”

This quote that is taken from Dante’s Inferno, a clear inspiration for Lars Von Trier’s latest movie could equally be a word of warning to those cinema-goers that struggle to relate to the filmmakers vision. With supposedly over 100 walkouts at Sundance and cries of disgust from some critics, some could be deceived into believing that this is once again another artsy film as a means to provoke this kind of reaction from the audience.

As the film unfolded, I found Jack’s journey an interesting one as the further he gave into his compulsions and acts of murderous intrigue, the deeper and more fascinating his character became. Matt Dillon’s poise as the titular character hinges on devoid emotion as Jack is hardwired into the mechanisation’s of the human body. He has no connection to these victims that he picks at random and purely sees them as part of his science experiment. Actually, Jack describes himself as an architect, or a creator, but as the viewer we can identify that he is in fact a lost soul, struggling to find his place in the world. His journey sees him adrift and constantly changing his direction and his ‘vocation’ as a result. Even his spiritual guide into his descent into hell, Verge (ably played by the late, great Bruno Ganz) contradicts Jack’s every move and hypothesis for the things he does.

At one stage he strives to connect with one of his victims, Simple (Riley Keough) but he frustrates at her lack of intelligence, at least to reach his level of so-called intellect, which leads him to not only degrade her mentally, but he then plays the ultimate sexual and physical degradation by removing her breasts with a knife. This could actually be the point where some of the 100 cinema-goers walked out of the screening, because despite not actually seeing the act, the performance is so believably harrowing (a testament to both parties) that it is understandable that this could have been too much for some, if not most. And that’s if they managed to stick around for the disturbing scene that depicted Jack shooting down a couple of children with a hunting rifle.

If I’m honest, the running time of 2 and a half hours had me balking a bit at the prospect of sitting through society and politics meshed in a tangled perspective from a serial killer, but ultimately the experience was a stark and realistic examination of just how fucked up everything is. If humanity continues on this trajectory, we are in for a deeply unnerving and insane world that will is fast pulling us into the recesses of hell.

The Diagnosis:

Von Trier will always be a tough sell, but this macabre overview of the dark soul of humanity as it plunges into its darkest hour, is an honest and gut-wrenching portrayal that harbours some powerful performances from all the cast. At times The House That Jack Built even leans into some humorous aspects of the mayhem, not often seen in Von Trier’s work, which was a surprise to see. Maybe he’s softening in his old age… but then again, maybe not.

It’s subject matter will not be for all and will pull away from the realism on-screen, but by now most people will be familiar with Von Trier’s 30 years of work behind the camera.

You’ll either be completely transfixed, disgusted, or bored by this latest offering, depending on your stance of the afore-mentioned director’s style.

  • Saul Muerte