It’s not very often that the most controversial, polarising & disturbing film of the year is also amongst the funniest. But here it is, made possible by the demented mind of the (in)famous Danish filmmaker Lars von Trier who has made a career out of scarring filmgoing audience in the name of art. And he isn’t any different with The House That Jack Built that finds him digging into the psyche of a serial killer with his artsy tools & warped sense of humour as he narrates his vicious killings through his point of view.
The story of The House That Jack Built follows a sophisticated serial killer over the course of 12 years and depicts the gruesome murders that end up developing his inner madman. Divided into 5 incidents followed by an epilogue, the film finds Jack narrating some of his most elaborately orchestrated crimes to a mysterious companion with whom he’s seemingly headed someplace. Along the way and through Jack’s perspective, we get an insight into his perverse state of mind as he postulates each murder to be an artwork.
Written & directed by Lars von Trier (best known for Antichrist, Melancholia & Nymphomaniac), it’s wicked that despite the shitty dialogues, awful character interactions & facepalm-inducing ramblings, the film is morbidly compelling for the major portion of its runtime and its humour is entwined into the narrative in such a clever fashion that some of its most grisly segments also make up for the most amusing moments in the story. But the film does go downhill during the second half and then slides into full pretentious mode in the final 10-15 minutes.
Employing all the filmmaking trademarks of the notorious provocateur, be it the episodic arrangement, imperfect handheld camerawork, disturbing imagery, provocative themes or investigation of far-fetched ideologies, what truly stands out most about the film is the macabre wit and the air of tension that Trier is able to conjure out of nowhere. The bickering between Jack & Verge continues from beginning to end and gets more n more twisted as plot progresses but it also loses its tenacity in the process and after a while has a numbing effect on the whole experience.
Now Lars von Trier may have his share of detractors but even they cannot deny his ability to carve out brilliant performances from his leads. Matt Dillon plays the serial killer with a deadpan demeanour that only adds to his character’s cold persona and he’s thoroughly committed here, pouring his heart out into a role of a heartless killer. Bruno Ganz is Verge who argues with Jack throughout the film while navigating him to a nameless place. Additional support comes from Uma Thurman, Riley Keough & Sofie Gråbøl in roles of Jack’s victims, with Keough managing to stand out amongst them.
On an overall scale, The House That Jack Built is undeniably gripping when it’s just focused on Jack & his killing spree, and sometimes even manages to intrigue with its disconcerting argument of murders being art pieces but the writing is all over the place, at times working in favour of the film while other times totally distracting from the premise, not to mention that the film is longer than it needs to be. Certainly not a film for all, especially if you can’t digest watching children getting killed & mutilated in graphic detail, Lars von Trier’s latest is shocking, appalling & disgusting as one expects his works to be but it is also audacious & amusing in ways that’s gonna make the viewers chuckle while their eyes bleed. Tread with caution because there are some truly horrifying images in here that you cannot unsee. You have been warned.