The House that jack built
- Review by Alison Traynor
As somebody who has spent a significant amount of time reading about the major controversy which Lars Von Trier’s new film, The House That Jack Built, has garnered, I entered the screening with the expectation of indulging in something unspeakably gruesome. I had built it up in my head as some sort of ‘Scandi-Noir meets Prisoners’ epic tale, sprinkled with graphic gore in order to uphold Von Trier’s street credit. However, the film did not even succeed in so much as being a noteworthy slasher flick. Overall, the film was an immense failure. In fact, the only truly horrific thing about it was how tedious was. The House That Jack Built is little more than an unfortunate piece of monotonous, self-indulgent drivel from Von Trier.
In reality, the film was not even that shocking. Considering it is about a serial killer, I would be concerned if anybody went in expecting to see the next Sound of Music. Sure, the murder scenes were not pleasant, but they have been done before and will be done again. Once you have seen one head battered in with a car jack, you have seen them all. But, naturally that did not stop Von Trier from insisting that the whole jack-entering-forehead sequence was shown repeatedly, zooming into Uma Thurman’s blood-splattered concave head with unadulterated glee. Presumably this was a precaution in case the audience happened to be asleep for the first time he showed it, which, to be fair to Von Trier, is quite a likely scenario.
The film is initially divided into five sections, depicting random incidents of murder committed by Jack, a serial killer, played convincingly by Matt Dillon. I let out a sigh of relief when the last murder had concluded, only to be confronted by another mind-numbing and even more protracted section, in which Jack, for some reason, descends into hell. In its entirety, it spans an exhausting two hours and thirty-five minutes. Quite frankly, that is two hours and thirty-five minutes too long for a film such as this.
As an audience member, I almost felt insulted by the condescending metaphorical explanations that ran throughout the film. At one point, it cuts to footage of a piano player and notes that he “represents art”. However, even this blatancy cannot hide the fact that really, there is no deeper meaning behind any of it. The film is essentially comprised of the acting out of twisted male fantasies under the guise of art. The women portrayed were frustratingly two-dimensional stereotypes, being either unintelligent, vulnerable or hyper-sexualised, and their murders are shown with purposeful gratuity.
At one point, Jacqueline’s (Riley Keough) breast is cut off, and, in an inventive twist of Von Trier’s, it is made into a wallet. I found it highly significant that even something as bizarre as this failed to make the film even vaguely interesting. I was not bothered by the violence (except , of course, when Jack cut off a duckling’s leg with pliers. That’s never okay) but by the pointlessness of it all. I am perfectly happy for Von Trier to make as many breast wallets as he wishes, but the least he could do is make the process engaging.