The House that Jack Built follows a serial killer (Matt Dillon) through his various escapades as he recalls his kills, philosophy, and thought processes to a stranger.
[This movie was viewed via Hulu at the time of this review.]
The House that Jack Built Review
Director Lars von Trier is known for some of the most disturbing and graphic content put to film in the modern era with his entries Nymphomaniac and Antichrist, among other dark and explicit concepts. So what would one expect from a film that dives intimately into the mind of a serial killer?
The House that Jack Built is disturbing, yet sometimes silly and insightful. It does a rather engrossing and believable job of providing a realistic lens of a serial killer, but with a sometimes surreal and unnerving perspective. While many of the scenes feel "authentic", there is this undeniable air over the material that reminds us that this story and its "reenactments" of Jack's recollections over his life's successes and failures are coming from the confessions of a madman. There are moments that feel viscerally and unsettlingly real and others that are mindbogglingly off-kilter in behavior and tone.
Listening to a lot of true crime that dives into the minds of serial killers and how they are born into the perfect storm of genetic predispositions, mixed with a flawless cocktail of abuse and psychological and physical trauma (in many cases), there is a lot of uncanny deja vu in Jack's behavior, methods, and retellings of events. For many of the most successful serial killers throughout history (those that killed far too many times before being stopped), the number one cause for their evasion of capture wasn't their own intellect and cunning, but rather a lack of means (modern technology and technique) or outright ignorance and incompetency on the part of the police forces investigating. Or downright luck. And Jack's cunning and luck, and the obvious incompetency of the police at times, all play a part in his continued rampage.
It makes for a very intriguing film as it feels real and informative. That isn't because everything happening on the screen is shot-for-shot accurate, but at the same time it 100% is, as it constantly and seamlessly shifts between what really happened and how Jack saw/recalled it happening, which produces a rare vision into how a serial killer operates, but also how they view and see the world. This is even further emphasized through the narration provided by Jack through a conversation with a mysterious individual named Verge.
I think it is worth diving into the key "twist" of the film, as it pertains to the whole of the film's truly unique angle and what makes it truly controversial from a "love it or hate it" sentiment. Throughout the runtime, Jack is discussing his murders and philosophy with this mysterious Verge character who turns out to be a Charon/Ferryman-like character who takes the deserving to Hell. In this case, we are hearing Jack's conversation with Verge as they traverse to the underworld.
Where things become polarizing is the extent of their philosophical conversations, both in scope and in length. There are significant chunks of time devoted to the two speaking on Jack's views on life and the murders he commits. And while this is sometimes interesting, it also reaches a state of unrelenting pretentiousness and outright boredom-inducing pontifications. This approach to the storytelling sometimes adds to the flavor of an otherwise intriguing take on the "analyzing a serial killer" sub-genre of sorts, but it also dilutes it at times and makes the already hefty runtime of 2.5 hours a grueling affair.
I loved this movie quite a bit. There was a lot to ponder after the film, from dissecting von Trier's artistic liberties to his haunting and engaging perspectives on reality-inspired serial killers. Even the philosophical discussions are interesting and properly entwined with the nastiness of Jack's actions and mind. But it is a slog. A weird, slow, awkward, pretentious, schizophrenic slog. Part of me genuinely wants to watch it again to dissect even more and just bask in the great acting and intriguing writing. But part of me also wants nothing to do with the commitment and patience necessary to complete a second viewing.
Horror Rating System
Horror Qualifier: 7/10
Horror Quality: 7/10
Film Quality: 7/10