Over the span of 12 years from the 1970’s to the 1980’s, wannabe architect Jack is an accomplished engineer living in serene of the Pacific Northwest and with a lack of empathy and an internal repository of compulsive and narcissistic traits, Jack is able to be a highly successful and intelligent serial killer who seeks mastering his craft as highly artistic and divine. Over the same period of time while butchering nearly countless people, including his own family, Jack obsessive compulsive disorder not only assists his longevity of his creative expression, but also dwindles down another social expected goal of designing and engineering his own home isolated at the edge of a lake. As the body count rises, Jack compulsive restrictions loosen and he begins taking greater and greater risks of being caught. Jack narrates his voyage of viscera and macabre to a literary listener in a back-and-forth to explain and justify his murderous methods and craft.
Unlike anything you’ve ever seen before, auteur writer-director Lars Von Trier (“Antichrist” and Nymphomaniac Vol. 1 and 2″) crafts his very own artistic expression delineation with the 2018 “The House That Jack Built,” a two and half hour venture into the deconstruction of a serial killer’s personality traits as well as the flourishing experience of murder through years of repetitive brush stroke practice and self-preservation knowledge done in a self-portrait form. Graphically violent and supercharged with coarse and visually stimulating visual effects and editing, all the hallmarks of a Von Trier film, “The House That Jack Built” blends an abundance of fine arts with religion and mythology that develops into a soaring renaissance piece of art in the modern times and would inspire the most closeted psychopath to revel themselves in a heap of aesthetic and picturesque horror.
As if Matt Dillion isn’t already an entertaining and diverse actor, the “Wild Things” and “Crash” star excavates a vile and dumb luck Jack from deep within, crafting the character as so smart, he’s sometimes stupid, but with each murder subsequently gone scot-free, the confidence builds, the trade becomes tangible, and the narcism washes over ever so slightly. Dillion arcs Jack so well that the character no longer becomes the villain but an anti-hero of sorts as rooting for the slaughtering of innocents becomes a painful necessity rather than an empty desire. The titular character converses with a mysterious companion named Vergel in a way as if Jack was anecdotally telling his own biopic. Vergel symbols multiple conceptual and tangible beings, from Jack’s moral conscious to Vergil, the Augustan period Roman poet, Vergel, or Verge as Jack simple calls him, crudely interviews and thoroughly analyzes Jack’s so-called art. Verge’s off-screen presence is heartily brought to life by Bruno Ganz, an actor who once portrayed Adolf Hitler in 2004’s Academy Award nominated film, “Downfall.” Ganz takes an expected backseat to the title carrying Jack, but doesn’t succumb to being underneath’s Jack’s critical and narcissistic viewpoints, making Verge a level playing field character alongside Jack. Ganz, who passed earlier this year, is equally masterful under a relatively underwhelming role paired with pure evil and while the contrast’s magnitude should be starkly poignant, Jack and Verge are equals in the eye of the viewers and that’s how powerful Lars Von Trier’s filmmaking can really be. Jack’s chaptering stories include co-stars such as “Kill Bill’s” Uma Thurman, Siobhan Fallon Hogan (“Men in Black”), Sofie Gråbøl (“Nightwatch”), Riley Keough (“It Comes At Night”), Jeremy Davies (“Ravenous”), and David Bailie of “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise.
In my experience with film from Lars Von Trier is that those who patron his films have polarizing affections; you either love his work or you absolutely loath his style of film. My experience consists of only one, yes one, of projects and that being “Antichrist,” and while I was not entirely enthralled with the film’s sexual themes, “The House That Jack Built” provided a plethora of philosophies to pick apart and to continue to digest even way after viewing. For those who might forego themes, philosophies, and theologies, many will bore themselves through the filmmaker’s American serial killer thriller for over two hours long, clocking in a 153 minutes, and finding themselves disoriented in a segmented tale that’s chaptered by five incidents and an epilogue over a 12 year span. Others will bang their hands over Trier’s use of repeat scenes, purposefully rolling them slow and in a calm disposition, allowing Jack to deliberate how and why he does what he does in his discussions with Verge, but these soft touches are nice pillow talk touches to the main, punchy action of Jack’s self imposed duresses under his murdering moniker, Mr. Sophistication, that palpably places the narcissistic cherry on top of misanthropic persona. The devil in the details are punchy themselves and a keystone to Trier’s overall narrative to explore the impulses of a killer’s mind. “The House That Jack Built” is a great accompaniment to shows like “Mindhunter” on Netflix or other films like “Silence of the Lambs” where serial killers vocalizes intricacies of their niche trade is very fascinating for morbid loving sympathizers.
Umbrella Entertainment releases “The House That Jack Built” onto Blu-ray home video. The full HD, 1080p, region B, uncut disc is presented in a widescreen, 2.35:1 aspect ratio, and is fully operational in all sense of the phrase with a generous color palate lacing through more natural lighting than assumed there would be in comparison to “Antichrist,” but the raw tone by Manuel Alberto Claro debases the stylized techniques of “Antichrist’s” Anthony Dod Mantle to virtually a hardline and graphic depiction of reality in the 1970’s. The English language 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio is respectfully verbose and robust. Trier’s loquacious exposition is actually great exposition of the crystal clear kind and the director shows off his depth and range, splicing edits together like a madman that still convey the overall theme without disregarding audio accounts. While technically sound, the Umbrella release comes regretfully with no bonus features. Brilliant, musing, and intense, “The House That Jack Built” is a Lars Von Trier legacy film breathed with unadulterated violence and sharp with superb writing potent that’s potent on every level. Trier just gets better and better with every film and look forward to his next project!