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The House That Jack Built

Film Review

by Luke McGoldrick


The House that Jack Built played at the Belmont Filmhouse for a one-off screening. I went in hoping for something shocking, hilarious and extremely dark – an arthouse serial killer flick directed by one of the most controversial contemporary filmmakers, Lars Von Trier. I got exactly what I wanted.

The first half of this film is brilliant, filthy, uncomfortable, immoral and downright hilarious. Matt Dillon deserves high praise as the titular character whose sick and strange personality provides much of the entertainment in the film. Much of the comedy arises from Jack’s incompetence in his early days as a serial killer; in a brilliant depiction of mental illness, Jack, who suffers with OCD, can’t leave the scene of the crime and keeps going back into the house to clean and clean again. The film was off to a great start – but Von Trier had to push it further until it turned into self-indulgence on the verge of ridiculous.

In between Jack’s killings, we are shown short essay films about art in atrocity – with actual footage of historical genocides to highlight the point. I thought this was out of touch, especially in a film that depicts murder in such dark comic tones. As much as I tried to convince myself of what he was saying, I simply could not buy into any of those ideas. Some people will say that it was intended as ironical, and of course the director doesn’t believe in any of that – but he sure went out of his way to make a point for it.

The House That Jack Built is perhaps more cryptic, disturbing and offensive than any of Von Trier’s other films, mainly because of the point (or points) it was trying to make. It felt more like a comment on his own work than anything else – a sort of ego-stroking essay on the art of the shock film.

If you’re up for a challenge, give the film a go – but expect to be both baffled and offended at the end. And then hate yourself for ever indulging in it.


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