by Philip Clarke
Controversial auteur Lars Von Trier has made a career out of shocking and offending people by not caring one iota what they think of him or his work. When you’re known for making projects such as Dancer in the Dark, Dogville, Manderlay, Antichrist and Nymphomaniac Vol. I & II, that only makes sense.
Suspension of disbelief is oftentimes something used in storytelling, and with good reason. Both The Lobster and Swiss Army Man are examples of utterly bonkers dramedies that you either buy into the world within the first five minutes, or you simply don’t for its entirety. Von Trier’s latest cinematic experiment perfectly falls into this category of “The Absurdist Rule”. The House That Jack Built is a Von Trier movie through and through. Fans of his past work should definitely be right in line for this, while haters will probably have nothing good to say about it in any way, shape or form.
Jack/Mr. Sophistication (Matt Dillon) recaps his life over the course of twelve years as a serial killer through five different numbered incidents and an insane epilogue to button the whole affair. Said “incidents” just so happen to be Jack brutally murdering women and children for the fun of it, simply because he can. The film is unapologetically offensive and boundary-pushing, as Jack continues his quest to kill whomever he pleases. Based off the above statements, it certainly doesn’t sound like it, but the film is darkly funny with its utterly pitch black sense of humour taking centre stage.
Early on in his career of casual murder, Jack is more concerned about his OCD tendencies, than he is actual human life. Watching Dillon repeatedly go back into the same house multiple different times after murdering a woman, so as to check every single part of the living room for where blood might possibly be, but clearly isn’t, is unquestionably a comedic highpoint in the film.
Every single character acts like a complete idiot other than Jack, which is the joke that Trier cleverly lampshades here. Much of what works about the film is Dillon himself. Jack is hands down both his best role and best performance in over a decade. His performance is at once bizarre and magnetic. It’ll make you wonder why he hasn’t been a bigger star in recent years, because he’s just so good at it.
Only a director like Von Trier would be so brazen to have a scene in his latest movie where he uses Dillon as a mouthpiece to defend his own artistic choices in his filmography. At a certain point, Jack monologues about what is clearly considered misunderstood art, all the while a montage of shocking scenes from Von Trier’s previous films flash by onscreen at the exact same time. Yes, that did indeed happen, and it was truly a glorious sight to behold.
The House That Jack Built is unapologetically Lars Von Trier at his most Lars Von Trier. Take that for what you will.Calgary International Film Festival, Lars von Trier, Matt Dillon, The House That Jack Built