Pulled over by a gratingly, self-important motorist (Uma Thurman), Jack (Matt Dillon) is brow beaten into giving her a lift. Continually taunting Jack as they drive, she berates him more and more. Not knowing where to stop with her prying, it’s only a question of time before Jack’s demeanour cracks under her haranguing hypotheses and he kills her. Calm reserve broken, it is a watershed moment for Jack, as it opens him up murderous path of self-expression.
...Von Trier ’s mischievous vanity can’t help reveal itself.
Director Lars Von Trier’s career is a long list of outrage and audience-baiting. Whether it’s later-retracted quotes getting him banned from film festivals or the explicit use of violence in his films, this enfant terrible relishes the reputation he has created. In this respect, this latest serial killer drama is a continuation of that theme, wrapped in a movie that is as long as it is jarring.
As in John McNaughton’s ‘Henry Portrait of A Serial Killer’, we follow the activities of a modern day serial killer, as seen from their point of view. Whilst not as refined or as cultured as Anthony Hopkin’s Hannibal Lektor, Matt Dillon plays Jack as a blend of real-life serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer with added dramatic license. Whether veering between menace, black humour or border-line farce, Dillon’s acting is quality through-out and he brings a dedicated performance to a difficult role, inside an even more problematic movie.
Unlike Von Trier’s shock-fest ’Anti-Christ’, humour is wielded here as the main weapon. Designed to bring uncomfortable levity to the most macabre of onscreen moments, ‘The House That Jack Built’ never tilts fully into ‘American Psycho’s’ territory. Instead it tries to lean closer to the afore-mentioned ‘Henry, Portrait of A serial Killer’ – this is where its real problems lie.
Whereas actor Michael Rooker’s terrifying Henry was a mute-like psychopath, Jack is an artist who sees his barbaric sadism as a legitimate form of art. Continually engaged in an off-screen conversation, Jack justifies his every action at every turn. Where Henry was a terrifying killer with lack of a reason, Jack is a character intent in drowning the audience with them. -Why, you ask? By way of answer, Von Trier ’s mischievous vanity can’t help reveal itself… revealing the metaphorical rabbit, it becomes clear that Jack isn’t talking about himself but Von Trier instead as the misunderstood ’artist’. None more so is this confirmed, when Von Trier self-indulgently presents a montage of his other films so as to feebly underline this self-congratulatory point.
Vain, deluded, and needlessly graphic, Lars Von Trier’s latest is another addition to his dire dogma of outrage and ego. Hiding as an artist in plain sight, much like his character Jack, Von Trier tries to avoid categorisation in a medium made for mass audiences. Ducking behind this defence as espoused by his movie’s characters, it becomes rapidly clear that his latest film made for an audience of one, seeking wider recognition for its vain smugness.
In the end ‘The House That Jack Built’ becomes a film you’ll either watch through your finger tips or with clenched fists. Unless you’re the kind of viewer that finds such an experience “entertaining” (think Darren Aronofsky’s ‘Mother’), then Lars Von Trier’s latest house of horrors is probably one you might want to miss.0