The House That Jack Built Blu-ray Review
Written by Robert Gold
Blu-ray released by Scream Factory
Written and directed by Lars von Trier
2018, 153 minutes, Unrated
Released on February 4th, 2020
Matt Dillon as Jack
Bruno Ganz as Verge
Uma Thurman as Lady 1
Siobhan Fallon Hogan as Lady 2
Sofie Gråbøl as Lady 3
Riley Keough as Simple
Jeremy Davies as Al
Jack is fascinated by art and the ability to create something beautiful. He is pensive and self-assured in his actions and treats each relationship he shares as something special. Above all else, Jack is a serial killer. He believes every murder is a fresh attempt at building his own personal masterpiece of the macabre. When he grows tired of working in secret, he begins sending photographs of his victims staged in artistic positions to the press, which he signs “Mr. Sophistication.” When we meet him, Jack is at a very special time in his life, as he is on the cusp of making his creative goal a reality. As he gets underway, he is sharing memories of how he got to this point with Verge, a man unfazed by these wicked tales.
Writer/director Lars von Trier (Dogville, Breaking the Waves) is a Danish filmmaker who qualifies as a true auteur. His uncompromising stories are personal and thought-provoking and his visuals are frequently breathtaking. He is also one of the most divisive filmmakers of his generation, garnering the highest praise for his efforts by some critics while simultaneously being derided by others. His most recent pictures have been met by both celebration and audience walkouts upon release. He also is somewhat of a provocateur, making controversial statements in the press and earning scorn from the general public. His latest creation, The House That Jack Built, is designed to shock viewers with its nihilistic, occasionally brutal images and deeply misogynistic views.
The plot follows Jack, a murderous sociopath as he recounts a series of five incidents that shaped his path over a twelve-year period. Divided into chapters, the narrative is equal parts Dante’s Inferno and Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer. We are asked to share the company of a truly vile man as he reflects on a broad variety of topics and beliefs. He does not judge himself for his actions, but sees them as an attempt to create the divine. Matt Dillon (Rumble Fish) stars as Jack and delivers a nuanced performance that demands your attention no matter how wretched the behavior. There are some quirky character traits that inject a fair amount of black humor into the picture, but Jack is all business when it comes to his work. None of the women he kills are particularly bright and he toys with each before getting “creative.” The supporting cast of victims includes Uma Thurman (Kill Bill), Siobhan Fallon Hogan (Dancer in the Dark) and Riley Keough (The Lodge), all of whom are pretty wonderful.
The House That Jack Built celebrates the bleak notion that life is evil and soulless, and von Trier does his best to convince you he is right. Jack’s monologues are depressing and off-putting, but worst of all they are tiresome. The writing is self-indulgent and ponderous as it paints an intimate portrait of a character who aspires to be deep, but breaks no new ground in the telling. Von Trier allows the story to unfold at a glacial pace that works for a while, but with frequent repetition quickly grows stale. As a filmmaker, he redeems himself in the final act with some truly jaw-dropping images that are quite stunning, but at two-and-a-half hours the picture could stand to lose about forty minutes. For fans of the director this is a no-brainer, but other audiences considering a purchase may want to catch this one streaming first.
Video and Audio:
Presented in the 2.40:1 aspect ratio, picture quality is rock-solid with rich detail and some gorgeous cinematography. Colors are muted for the majority of the film, but become bold and striking during the finale. Black levels are deep and flesh tones appear natural throughout.
The film features a heavy dose of voiceover narration and the DTS-HD MA 5.1 track handles dialogue levels remarkably well. Music and sound effects cues are well-balanced and extend into the surround channels without becoming intrusive.
Optional English subtitles are included for anyone in need.
The theatrical cut (151 minutes) is presented on its own disc, paired with the original theatrical trailer.
The director offers a brief introduction (27 seconds) to the extended cut of the film (153 minutes).
A short promo trailer (27 seconds) marks the announcement of the start of production.
Sonning Prize: An Interview with Lars Von Trier (27 minutes) finds the director in conversation with Professor Peter Schepelern. He discusses his approach to filmmaking and some of the recurring themes in his work. He reflects on the ups and downs of his career and addresses some of the controversial comments he has made to the press. The interview is in Dutch with English subtitles.
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