The Uncomfortable Gaze: Our Review of ‘The House That Jack Built’

Posted in Movies, VOD/iTunes/DigitalDownload by - December 02, 2018
The Uncomfortable Gaze: Our Review of ‘The House That Jack Built’

Suffering for one’s art can get taken to the next level, easier then we suspected…

The House That Jack Built from controversial writer/director Lars Von Trier is as you’d expect a difficult watch but a wholly enthralling one as he takes us down the rabbit hole of a self-aware psychotic mind as he rationalizes his serial killing ways.

This is the story of Jack (Matt Dillon), a man with psychotic tendencies as we revisit five very key and distinct moments in his life over a 12 year period that truly evolved him as a serial killer or as he sees it as someone looking for constant perfection in the murders that he has and continues to commit.

As a filmmaker and storyteller; Lars Von Trier certainly has a track record of being to put it mildly; a shit-disturber.  Putting aside his personal comments at various film festivals and the fact that many actors simply loathe their experience of working with him, he’s the kind of filmmaker that actively goes out of his way to push buttons and he does it here and then some as The House That Jack Built is a stunning ride into the hell of a psychotic mind.  It’s uncomfortable, and its damn well supposed to be.

With a director’s cut clocking in at over 150 minutes, the film is a slow unfurl of madness and anguish that Von Trier allows us to marinate in.  From minute one, this man is trying to make us uncomfortable and it works with an odd yet effective mix of dread and deadpan humor.  This film is actually trying to make you laugh before it makes your skin crawl.  That actually just makes your skin crawl even more as it dives into the deep end of misogyny & rage allowing for the truly uncomfortable nature of those emotions to drive through into our skulls.  At its core this movie really is a stunning psychological examination of the psychotic mind that is so terribly self-aware he actually knows that he’s going to hell, even as he ramps up the violence and murders that he ultimately knows will be his downfall.

The film unquestionably is SUPPOSED to be uncomfortable but you can feel the glee that he finds as a story teller in taking just a little too far.  The director’s cut does have some sequences that are knowingly and incredibly uncomfortable to watch.  Do they push the boundaries of decency a little too far?  I’d say yes, but that being said this is all very much a mirror on his own art where he wants us as a viewer immersed in the world’s that he unfurls.  Sure we can debate till we’re blue in the face if something this grim, morbid and flat out disturbing can be considered art (we say it is) but the one thing no one can ever label Von Trier as is uninteresting as he actively tries to piss off his audience and take his characters to some truly dark places.

Matt Dillon sits at the centre of this shrubbery maze with a fantastic performance as our titular character.  We never like him, but are consistently fascinated by him from beginning to end.  Channelling the typical psychopathic ideals that we’ve seen in other cinematic characters from the past we also get a painful self awareness of a man who knows what his ultimate fate is.  That’s the idea that makes audiences truly uncomfortable; being resigned to a fate that one knows is ultimately self-destructive.  Dillon is never for one second likable, but we almost sympathize with him at times and become enraptured with his incredibly self-aware description of his own life that he ultimately knows is spiraling out of control.  The wonderful Bruno Ganz is his rich and enigmatic self as Verge; the voice just off camera asking, dare I say forcing Jack to examine his own existence.  The rest of the supporting players really do exist on the periphery and they are supposed to, but Dillon really commands the screen here in what just might be one of the single best performances of his career.

Audiences find real discomfort with the films of Lars Von Trier as they force the gaze on the uncomfortable and downright ugly sides of humanity and our very nature.  The House That Jack Built does that and then some as it actively (and somewhat figuratively) takes us on a road to hell through the eyes of a man who hates women and very possibly everyone around him.  This just might be his most personal film yet, which is what’s really creeping audiences out and while we should never want to stay on this dark imagery for too long, it’s important to occasionally make ourselves look at those dark corners of the psyche…if only so we know how to avoid them.

The House That Jack Built hits VOD everywhere on Dec. 14th.

This post was written by
David Voigt is a Toronto based writer with a problem and a passion for the moving image and all things cinema. Having moved from production to the critical side of the aisle for well over 10 years now at outlets like, Criticize This, Dork Shelf (Now That Shelf), to.Night Newspaper he’s been all across his city, the country and the continent in search of all the news and reviews that are fit to print from the world of cinema.
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