Tuesday, October 29, 2019
The House That Jack Built
Written and directed by Lars von Trier from an idea by von Trier and Jenle Hallund, The House That Jack Built is the story of the life of a serial killer in the course of 12 years as he kills various people from the 1970s to the 1980s in the state of Washington. The film is a psychological horror film that explores a man’s love of killing people through five moments in his life as he sees his killings as works of art as the titular character is portrayed by Matt Dillon. Also starring Bruno Ganz, Uma Thurman, Riley Keough, Siobhan Fallon Hogan, Sofie Grabol, and Jeremy Davies. The House That Jack Built is a discomforting yet intense film from Lars von Trier.
Set in the 1970s and 1980s in the state of Washington through five events and an epilogue, the film is the simple story of the life of a failed architect who becomes a serial killer as he would kill a lot of people during the course of his life. It’s a film that explores a man’s life through the people he killed with many of the victims being women as he would talk about his exploits to another man off screen as well as view his murders as art. Lars von Trier’s screenplay is told through five chapters as it relates to life of its titular character (Matt Dillon) as he would have these off-screen conversations with a man named Verge (Bruno Ganz) such as the first time he killed someone to how his murders would get more sophisticated during the years as he becomes less compulsive and more refined. It also showcases his growing sense of disdain towards aspects of humanity as well as seeing his killings as works of art where he is determined to be more artistic. Yet, he would also cope in trying to create a house for himself as another form of artistic expression.
The direction of von Trier is stylish in its approach to telling a man’s life story yet it draws upon many ideas of artistry with inter-cut images of stock footage and such to play into Jack’s psyche and pursuit of artistic glory. Shot on various locations in Sweden and parts of Denmark including Copenhagen, the film does play into this small town world where Jack drives a shiny red-colored van as von Trier would shoot much of the film on different formats with much of the narrative presented in the 2:39:1 aspect ratio with some stock footage shot in the 1:37:1 full-frame aspect ratio. Much of von Trier’s usage of close-ups and medium shots are presented with hand-held cameras to get a sense into Jack’s own emotions as well as those he terrorizes during the course of the film. There are some wide shots as a few of them pay homage to Carl Theodor Dreyer’s film Master of the House in a sequence where Jack carries a body to his home in a darkly-comical speedy presentation. The direction also has von Trier borrow images from not just various pieces of art including footage from shorts and such along with von Trier’s own films but also paintings, sculptures, and designs of houses, churches, and other places to play into Jack’s fascination with art.
Even as it play into Jack’s obsession in creating the perfect house with the best materials he can find as his frustrations for perfection only fuels his desire to kill. The violence in the film is emphasized more on impact rather than gore and anything outrageous as von Trier shows these acts of violence to play into Jack’s obsession with its culture and how much control he can bring while becoming more sadistic in his pursuit of artistic triumphs. The film’s final incident and its epilogue play into Jack’s obsession as well as this individual he had been talking to throughout the film off-screen in Verge. The final incident would also reveal a room that Jack had been trying to get into in the ice locker he owned where he would store many of his victims as it would play into Jack’s desire of his own dream house but also a chilling epilogue that is more about Jack’s fate and the decision he makes as a man. Overall, von Trier creates a disturbing yet evocative film about the life of a serial killer and his pursuit of artistic glory.
Cinematographer Manuel Alberto Claro does brilliant work with the film’s cinematography as its usage of colors and low-key lights for scenes at the night and in some of the interior scenes add to the stark visual tone of the film. Editors Molly Malene Stensgaard and Jacob Secher Schulsinger do excellent work with the editing with its usage of jump-cuts, montages, and other stylish cuts to play into Jack’s journey. Production designer Simone Grau Roney and art director Cecilia Hellner do fantastic work with the apartment that Jack lives in as well as the ice house that he owns with boxes of frozen pizzas where he would store the body while von Trier would serve as art director for the film’s final scene. Costume designer Manon Rasmussen does nice work with the costumes as it is largely straightforward in what Jack wears with the exception of a red bathrobe he would wear late in the film.
Prosthetics makeup effects designer Love Larson does terrific work with the look of the corpses that Jack has collected in his storage ice room. Visual effects supervisors Pierre Buffin and Peter Hjorth do amazing work with the visual effects for some sequences during the epilogue that includes recreations of a few paintings. Sound designer Kristian Eidnes Andersen does superb work with the sound where it emphasizes on natural elements and sparse textures to play into the realism of the film. The film’s music by Victor Reyes is wonderful for its low-key approach to ambient music which is only used sparingly for its climatic epilogue while music supervisor Mikkel Maltha provide a music soundtrack that adds a lot of punch to Jack’s journey from classical pieces by Johann Sebastian Bach, Antonio Vivaldi, and Richard Wagner as a Bach piece is performed by Glenn Gould with the rest of the soundtrack features Louis Armstrong’s rendition of St. James Infirmary Blues, a cover of Ray Charles’ Hit the Road Jack by David Johansen in his Buster Poindexter persona, and David Bowie’s Fame.
The casting by Des Hamilton, Avy Kaufman, and Lara Manwaring is marvelous as it feature some notable small roles from Osy Ikhile as a victim of Jack’s late in the film, David Bailie as a friend of Jack’s in S.P., Jeremy Davies as an ammunitions salesman in Al, Jack McKenzie as a blacksmith in Sonny, Emil Tholstrup as a young Jack, Marijana Jankovic and Carina Skenhede as a couple of victims of Jack’s, Rocco and Cohen Day in their respective roles as the boys Grumpy and George, and Edward Spleers as a policeman during the film’s second incident. In the performances of some of the women that Jack would encounter, Uma Thurman as the annoying hitchhiking lady, Siobhan Fallon Hogan as a widowed neighbor, Sofie Grabol as a mother of two boys, and Riley Keough as a young girlfriend of Jack’s in Simple are excellent in their roles as the women in Jack’s life who would play into his evolution as a serial killer and his growing fascination in being an artist.
Bruno Ganz is phenomenal as Verge as this mysterious man who appears off-screen for much of the film as he converses with Jack about his killings and such where he is appalled by his actions but also intrigued as his appearance in the film’s final moments reveal something much bigger as someone who observes all of Jack’s exploits. Finally, there’s Matt Dillon in an incredible performance as the titular character as this architect whose desire to create a home for himself is troubled by his desire for perfection as his frustrations with humanity leads him to killing people where he sees it as an expression of art where Dillon displays some charm but also a manic energy into his role as it is a career-defining performance for Dillon.
The House That Jack Built is a spectacular film from Lars von Trier that features a sensational performance from Matt Dillon. Along with its ensemble cast that includes a great supporting performance from Bruno Ganz as well as its ravishing visuals, offbeat music soundtrack, and study of humanity, murder, and art. It’s a film that is definitely not for the faint of heart as it shows von Trier at his most carnal but also with a level of restraint into the acts of violence as well as studying the mind of a man who kills for the pleasure of it as well as to fill the void of his own artistic satisfaction. In the end, The House That Jack Built is a tremendous film from Lars von Trier.
Lars von Trier Films: The Element of Crime - Epidemic - Medea (1988 TV film) - Europa - The Kingdom I - Breaking the Waves - The Kingdom II - Dogme #2: Idioterne - Dancer in the Dark - Dogville - The Five Obstructions - Manderlay - The Boss of It All - Antichrist - Melancholia - Nymphomaniac
Related: Favorite Films #3: Breaking the Waves - The Auteurs #7: Lars von Trier
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