REVIEW: The House That Jack Built (2018)

Directed by: Lars Von Trier
Starring: Matt Dillon, Bruno Ganz, Uma Thurman

Written by Lucy Buglass

Danish director Lars Von Trier is no stranger to controversy. He has certainly divided film fans with some praising his work and some condemning it.  The House That Jack Built is his most recent creation, causing audience members at Cannes to either walk out in disgust or stand up and applaud. This seriously mixed reception caught my interest and I wanted to find out what he’d done to generate such a response.

I’ve only seen two of his previous films; Antichrist and Melancholia, the former being a film that disturbed me so much I haven’t been able to watch it a second time. Its visceral, raw and harrowing portrayal of sex, violence, and self-mutilation is something that is a thoroughly uncomfortable and unpleasant watch.  Because of Antichrist, I felt nervous yet strangely excited to see what The House That Jack Built had in store for me. I was surprised, however, to discover that it is arguably his tamest film to date, with a lot of the more graphic content happening off-screen. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t have its disturbing moments, but it was a lot less visceral than I was expecting based on its recent backlash.

The film is split into five chapters labelled ‘The Incidents’ and an epilogue, detailing some of the murders that Jack carried out over a 12-year span. Two of these incidents include child abuse and female mutilation, but is presented in a much more psychologically disturbing way rather than uncomfortable close-ups and drawn out scenes that you watch from behind your hands. The House That Jack Built spends more time tapping into Jack’s own psyche than it does the atrocities he commits, with Matt Dillon really stealing the show as the titular character.

It’s also darkly funny in places, which I certainly wasn’t expecting. Dillon’s portrayal of a psychotic killer with OCD is both terrifying and amusing. He is simultaneously charming and unhinged, which is a difficult thing to pull off. He was by far my favourite thing about the film, reminiscent of so many iconic serial killers that have fascinated the general public. The film relied heavily on Jack’s character and inner thoughts so it was great to see Dillon pull it off so brilliantly.

Much like Von Trier’s previous work, The House That Jack Built features lots of symbolism throughout the narrative. In this case, it focuses heavily on religion, art and family, with Jack being challenged on all of these as he recounts the incidents. The voice challenging him is a mystery to us until the third act, where Bruno Ganz’s character is finally revealed to us. I found this reveal to be a little jarring and strange, but not unexpected from one of his films. For me, the third act is where it started to go downhill and I lost interest, which is a real shame after the strength of the first two. Despite seeing some really great analyses online, it wasn’t enough to change my own views on the way it ended. It just seemed a little too out of place for my liking.

The visual style is interesting and combines live action with animation and still images. This feels very random but in the context of this particular film, it actually works in its favour. Both Dillon and Ganz narrate over the animation and still images, giving us monologues that act as food for thought and raise questions about morality, life, death and so on. It’s an intense film in that regard and one that you have to really concentrate on in order to enjoy properly.

The House That Jack Built is a depressing, harrowing and strange film. Its blend of sadistic violence and humour makes it a truly unique horror film that seems to appeal to a very specific audience. It’s not for the faint of heart, and Jack’s misogynistic killing sprees teamed with his nihilistic outlook on life is bound to be uncomfortable for many to witness. As a case study on a serial killer it’s a fascinating watch, but out of the three films I’ve seen, this one is unfortunately the weakest in my eyes.




Top 5 Movie Dance Scenes

Written by Jakob Lewis Barnes

We all love a good boogie, right? Even better when there’s a touch of comedy to the dance moves, and these five dance sequences from the movies are equally entertaining as they are oddly impressive. 

5. Ben Mendelsohn (Lost River)

I only recently saw this film, and to be honest this dance sequence is probably the one which gave me the idea to put together this list. I loved this part of the film, mainly because I had no idea it was coming and it was so out of the blue in the context of the film. Ben Mendelsohn’s moves here are extremely creepy and sinister, yet you can’t help but have a wry smile on your face when you watch this scene.

4. Ben Stiller (Starsky and Hutch)

This one took quite a bit of pondering to come up with, but as soon as I remembered this sequence I just had to include it in the list. I’m not the biggest fan of Ben Stiller, but ‘Starsky and Hutch’ was, for me, one of his best films, and this hilarious dance-off scene is the highlight of the whole film. Stiller busts out some classic moves, and let’s be honest, he had Dancin’ Rick beat all over. 

3. Uma Thurman and John Travolta (Pulp Fiction)

This is probably the most iconic dance scene of all time, and I’m not disputing that at all. Uma Thurman and John Travolta’s legendary dance scene in ‘Pulp Fiction’ is the most recognisable and famous of them all, but that doesn’t make it the best. It is however, a magical moment in cinematic history and a real stroke of genius from Quentin Tarantino. 

2. Oscar Isaac (Ex Machina)

Now this is the ultimate in dark comedy! Oscar Isaac, who plays the mysterious, rather detestable genius Nathan in this sci-fi flick, comes out of nowhere to drop an incredibly synchronised dance sequence which took the film world by storm last year. This is arguably the best moment of one of 2015’s top films; so good, that I just had to recreate it for the JumpCut UK Film Awards (watch this and skip to 27:43, or watch the whole thing, your call).

1. Jon Heder (Napoleon Dynamite)

Only one dance scene could beat that masterclass from Oscar Isaac, and that is, of course, the awkward yet endearing display from Jon Heder in ‘Napoleon Dynamite’. Not only is this a sequence which cracks me up every time, but it’s actually pretty impressive too. Jamiroquai’s ‘Canned Heat’ track is used perfectly, and Heder nails every step. Confession time: I’ve also mastered the moves to this one too.

So there we have it. Have I missed any movie dance moments out? Let us know in the comments section or hit us up on Twitter @jumpcutUK or @jumpcutjakob.