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Spooktober Review: The House that Jack Built

This film is pretentious and terrible

Throughout “Spooktober,” Nicklaus Neitling reviews one horror property each weekday.


Every year, there’s a movie on the festival circuit that makes people walk out in disgust. The House that Jack Built is this year’s film.

Plot:

Written and directed by Lars Von Trier, The House that Jack Built follows Jack (Matt Dillon) as he commits several murders for 12 years in the 1970s and 1980s. Taking place over five “incidents” which Jack mostly narrates, the film is structured around the type of house Jack is attempting to design and build.

What Worked:

Matt Dillon turned in a career-best performance here. He is excellent as the titular Jack, bringing charm and terror to the role. I believed him as a serial killer. The narration actually works to fit the more arthouse shots into the context of the film. It also gives the film some semblance of a plot. Dillon provides this anchor with a committed performance that propels the film forward.

The film’s cinematography is wonderful as wonderful as that of any film with this subject material. Von Trier’s camera work makes murder a beautiful sight. The film’s incredible imagery in its last act alone is worth seeing.

The film also employs a pitch-black sense of humour that helps put us at ease with the subject material. The film contains some of the most shocking things I’ve ever seen put to film, so a small joke goes a long way.

What Didn’t Work:

This film is a chore to get through.

If it isn’t Von Trier’s arthouse pretension that forces its way into the film at every opportunity, then it‘s the harsh violence. None of it paces particularly well. The film bogs itself down in the ham-fisted way its message is delivered.

The epilogue is a trip through hell that, while beautiful, is a cringe-inducing eye-roll. Nothing about the film is subtle or nuanced. I understand this is Von Trier’s method, but it makes the film a laughable, frustrating, and self-indulgent affair that is inaccessible to pretty much anyone outside of his fanbase.

There is also a monologue in the film about being “born guilty” that is incredibly weird. Interpret it how you will, but Lars Von Trier wrote and directed this movie after allegations of sexual harassment. Knowing this makes the monologue about men always being guilty regardless of their actions, which comes off as worrisome, to say the least.

Verdict:

Dedfest hosted a double feature on the night I saw this. While I came into this movie with high expectations some of which were met my first Lars Von Trier outing was a disappointment. When Cannes Film Festival attendees walked out of the film’s premiere, they only missed out on an overstuffed and oddly self-righteous mess.

2.5 incidences out of 5

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