Film Review: The House That Jack Built

The House That Jack Built is every inch the Lars von Trier film. The provocative satire should prove rewarding for those receptive to it.

Jack is a serial killer. He recounts five incidents which take place over a twelve-year span. These incidents reveal an insight into an unusual mind…

Writer-director Lars von Trier returns with his most tongue-in-cheek film to date. The House That Jack Built is the blackest of comedies, functioning almost as a satirical memoir of the filmmaker. The film is structured as a series of chapters, with Jack recounting incidents that have shaped his career. This is delivered in the style of a confessional, with Jack’s monologue being occasionally interrupted by the mysterious Verge.

A meditation on morality, violence, and choice, The House That Jack Built feels introspective. Throughout the film, but most obviously during the epilogue, it appears that it is von Trier who is examining his career. As Jack opines on his actions and choices, there is a clear parallel with von Trier and his artistic endeavours. As expected, violence is frequently visited. Although there are some uneasy depictions, it is not shocking coming from chief provocateur von Trier. The filmmaker flirts with the obscene and the absurd, yet those familiar with his work will expect this.

There is a considerable amount of humour in The House That Jack Built, despite the subject matter. Certain situations are bleakly amusing, such as the need of Jack to keep returning in the second incident. As the film progresses, the net closes in on Jack. Yet at times, it seems as if the authorities are willing him to get away with it; a metaphor perhaps for von Trier’s reception in the film world. Matt Dillon delivers an assured and convincing performance in the title role. Production designer Simone Grau is allowed to flourish in the vibrant epilogue.

The various references in the film (including Bowie, Delacroix, even his own movies), reinforce von Trier’s notions of art. In positing murder as art, Lars von Trier offers a hollow provocation – one that seems like it is not meant to be taken seriously. The House That Jack Built is thought provoking and ultimately gratifying viewing.

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