31 in 31 – “The House That Jack Built”

“If you feel like screaming, I definitely think that you should.”

Story: Jack is an engineer by trade , an architectural hobbyist, and an extremely successful serial killer. He discusses his life, art, and “works” with new friend Verge as they take a stroll down memory lane… And even further down.

Scares: Minimal. Mostly shocking acts of violence you damn sure know are coming. so there’s more of Hitchcock’s simmering “nobody knows there’s a bomb under the table” suspense than outright terror.

Splat factor: YES. Because serial killer.

Closing scene “shocker”?: Nope. The story wraps up completely.

Remake, Sequel or OG (Original Ghoul)?: Original, but with echoes of von Trier’s usual style, and a touch of classic lit.

Trick or Treat?: What is it about Lars von Trier that draws me in? Breaking the Waves, Dogville, Melancholia, I’m all in. His films aren’t easy to watch – in fact it’s said around 100 people vomited and/or walked out when Jack was shown at Cannes – but his disturbingly beautiful visuals and intellectual navel gazing keep me coming back again and again. He’s got another good one here with Jack. This film is a strange blend of Henry Portrait of a Serial Killer and Dante’s Divine Comedy, with weird bits of history, psychology, the nature of love, and the drive towards misogynistic behavior thrown in.

Jack is a philosophical freak out of murder, the nature of man, Holocaust symbolism (and straight up historical film footage, as von Trier uses stock clips of camps and Nazis), and the banality of evil. Matt Dillon plays Jack as a self absorbed sadist, always reaching for his idea of perfection, but never quite finding it. From the house he longs to build, to his kills, Jack’s self-described OCD drives him to repeat himself until he gets things right. It’s chilling, and fascinating. Bruno Ganz’s Verge is the perfect foil for Jack’s rampant narcissism, and much of the film’s deep philosophical dives stem from Verge’s ability to shine a light on Jack’s ego, shutting him down time and again… Except Jack never seems to clue in.

As with many von Trier joints, most folks probably won’t dig this film. Jack drifts off straight-up horror so often casual horrorhounds may lose interest, and the staggering quantity of death and dismemberment is bound to put off a good chunk of the usual art house crowd. But if, like me, you’re pulled to the siren song a combination of horror, offbeat artistry, and extremely deep thoughts sends out? You’ll find plenty to sink into here.

Score: 5 out of 5 pumpkins.

About Denise

Professional nerd. Lover of licorice.
This entry was posted in 31 in 31, In Horror and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

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