Severe for the sake of it
Lars von Trier’s final film, The House That Jack Built is beautifully directed and impressively portrayed, yet sensationally cliché ridden. The story follows Jack, everyone’s favourite serial killer and his ‘5 incidents’, featuring the ‘best of’ highlights from his murderous career.
Throughout the film, Jack (played by Matt Dillon, who performed exceptionally) progresses from being almost a relatable character to someone who is a shadow of his former self. Perhaps such a transformation is accurate in describing a killer’s mental journey, however this felt too predictable. The backstory to Jack, featured a childhood version of himself and his exploration of death from a young age. In my opinion, von Trier at this moment destined the character of Jack to a violent life with his progression into adulthood equally lacking remorse. This was too obvious, following the narrative that every serial killer once butchered animals before moving onto people seemed tired and lacked deep thought to me.
Jack narrates the film as he speaks or confesses rather, to the unknown ‘Verge’ throughout. He is self aware of everything he does and tells the audience of his mental illnesses through the use white cards that he holds. His ability to overcome his OCD miraculously with murderous ‘therapy’ gave the impression that his violent actions were a good thing as I found myself sympathising with Jack. This was during the first two incidents, the rest were a different story.
The camera work was undoubtedly gorgeous and made graphic scenes seem poetic. This was paired with constant artistic references that distracted me from the already chaotic storyline and tried too hard to differ from the horror genre. To make up for the underdeveloped narrative, various scenes were horrifying for the sake of it, offering the audience disgusting images that failed to strengthen the movie. Towards the end of the 3rd incident, I had to stop and leave my laptop for a minute – the harrowing picture of Grumpy haunted me as I finished the film.
I felt a lack of escapism as I watched this, the parallels between this 1970/80’s world was undeniably similar to the America experienced under Trump’s reign, the 3rd incident highlighted this with the red caps worn. The monologue given by Jack prior to the slaughter of the family left me shaking my head as it mirrored society today to some extent.
After experiencing all that the movie had to offer, I was tired. I was given no solid ending to Jack’s earthly fate except that he did the unthinkable – which by this time was the most thinkable thing that could have happened. The depths of hell was a fitting ending but not satisfying enough.
It was undeniable that the film was good, reflecting on it as a whole I felt that Matt Dillon’s acting was superb and very convincing. He easily embodied many of the lovely qualities stereotypical of a crazed madman. The scenery was serene and calm, a clever contrast to the story, making this was one of my favourite elements. It felt forced and was a little disappointing for me, I enjoyed some parts but I couldn’t experience this again for a while.