Released: 7th March
Seen: 14th August
I do not think there is a more controversial director working today than Lars Von Trier. His films have an extraordinary ability to divide an audience in 10 minutes. You either love his work or hate it and there is no real room for anything between those. He is one of the few true auteur filmmakers who also helped invent an entire movement in cinema known as Dogme 95, which I highly recommend looking up because it is kind of insane and will go a long way into explaining why Von Trier’s films are the way that they are. Now I’ve always been iffy on Lars, enough that I have just kind of avoided his work. I saw Antichrist years ago, a film that I consider one of the great comedies of all time (provided you watch it directly after you watch Irreversible) and I’ve seen clips of Melancholia but I have had no real desire to watch any more of Lars’ movies… and then I decided to be a reviewer and he put out a film that I would need to watch and talk about, so I’m not exactly in a great mood right now but mostly I just need a nap.
The House That Jack Built is a two and a half-hour slog of a film that follows serial killer Jack (Matt Dillon) as he goes about his life, killing several random women with personalities that range from mean to stupid to really stupid. As he goes about his violent rampage of head smashing and extreme mastectomies, he talks to an unseen character about how his murder is comparable to art and does long speeches about the nature of what he does in a way that only people in the wankiest of artistic wankfest films could do. Between bouts of sniffing his own farts, Jack will alternatively kill people and work on building a house that I assume is so he can view the graveyard of corpses he leaves in his wake. This is all so the director can make his truly important point that, quote, “life is evil and soulless” in reaction to the rise of Trump (not my reading, Lars literally stated this was a Trump-inspired film). This is a point he decided to make by producing the most boring film he could make, even though it includes scenes of child murder and taxidermy.
The film is not exactly subtle about how it wants to present itself, you’re meant to be horrified but numb to the violence by the end of it and maybe the film is so effective that it did that from the start. I was basically done with this film by the 30-minute mark. Every conversation in the film is so poorly written that no one behaves like a person. The film separates itself by acts known as “incidents”, each incident showing one of Jack’s many murders and by the end of the first incident where Jack kills Lady 1 (Uma Thurman) it becomes obvious that we’re in for lengthy banal conversations that no human being would have, reactions that are so stupidly thought out that it stuns me no one said “Uh, wouldn’t I be running away now?” and violence that is no more shocking than one of the edgier 80s horror films. It will repeat this multiple times, the only variation being the nature of the banal conversation and the murder we will be witnessing. He also might occasionally have OCD, but only when we need him to have it in order to have one potentially tense scene with him going back and forth to clean a crime scene while police approach… and then it’s never brought up again, which is good because actual OCD might be set off by dragging a corpse along a road and leaving a trail of blood.
There is exactly one sequence in the film that felt memorable, effective and even got in the political message around Trump and the nature of his evil. There’s one scene where Jack brings a family on a picnic, gives them all red hats and then hunts them for sport and it’s a genuinely fascinating sequence that is actually intense and horrifying… and then the classical music starts playing and disembodied voiced talk about art and metaphors and I wonder if my pillow is soft enough that I can take that nap I desperately need. I ended up stopping and starting this film multiple times, not because it horrified me (everything this film shows that could be horrific is something I’ve seen before in better, sleazier films) but because I needed to go get coffee. I know I’m hammering in that this film is boring and tiring to get through, but it is shockingly boring and I don’t care if the point is to show how banal evil can be because at some point you just make a boring film and Lars made a boring film.
It’s hard to even think of a thing about this film I liked. I can’t even praise the acting because everyone is just OK, mostly because they’ve been given material that can best be described as “A rough outline of a future script”. The entire film isn’t even bad enough to be funny, it’s just pretentious. It thinks it’s saying something truly brilliant and embracing a gritty style that includes SO many shots where they lose camera focus and it’s just irritating. Maybe it’s meant to be, maybe I’m meant to be irritated by the bad film making and its part of a greater artistic point… still irritated, and your art isn’t that good. The film oozes the same kind of contempt that I felt with mother!, a film that wants to be proclaimed as art and having an important message and does it in a way that’s almost begging people to write think pieces about it. It wants to pretend it’s smarter than everyone else when it can’t even be bothered to be smart enough to have characters behave normally. Maybe it’s me but if I’m a character in a movie and someone orders me to get a magic marker, draws dotted lines around my breasts and tells me they killed 60 people… I’d run. I should’ve run from this film because maybe the run would’ve given me some excitement, I could’ve fallen and scraped my knee and actually felt something.
The House That Jack Built needs to be demolished. It’s an uninteresting film with dreams of being high art when you would need to be high to consider it art. It’s not shocking, it’s not upsetting, and it’s not even vulgar. Those things require there to be something to shock, upset or offend. It doesn’t even handle its attempt at social commentary on the current regime well, which shouldn’t be too hard to do. It’s overly long and underwritten. It is little more than a pathetic attempt to shock an audience with a political message it never actually has. I’m not even angry, I just feel sorry for this film because it has nothing going for it that isn’t based on the name of the director. If this film were directed by anyone else, it would be rotting in the bottom of a two-dollar discount bin at a gas station where it probably belongs.