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First Reactions: The House That Jack Built

Oh, it pains me to say this but I really want to see a Lars Von Trier film, and I don’t know why. Or rather, I do know why and I am struggling to admit this to myself, I like dark films which show the evil acts that humans can commit. Perhaps, that’s because I have always been somewhat cynical about how the world acts? Who knows, but either way there’s something about The House That Jack Built which has managed to grab my attention, refusing to let go…and like when I first saw the trailer for Mother! and The Killing of a Sacred Deer last year, I need to see this film.

I know it’s more than likely that I won’t actually enjoy Von Trier’s latest film, and I will probably hate it with a passion, but I can’t deny saying that I am very intrigued. We open with a shot of Jack played by a dead-eyed, soulless Matt Dillon, sporting a red hooded jacket (perhaps a reference to the fairy tale Red Riding Hood?). Bruno Ganz informs Jack, his house is a “fine little house” and I am already beginning to suspect we’re discussing some sort of torture room, judging from the chrome interior we find ourselves in.

In typical Von Trier fashion the images on-screen seem almost innocent, we see a young man (possibly Jack when he was young) standing in a wooded area looking up at the sun peeking through the trees. We see a POV shot of a man standing in shallow water, and everything seems peaceful. But, this is the calm before the storm…this is Lars Von Trier after all, and chaos reigns.

the house that Jack Built

Next we witness Jack picking up Uma Thurman’s character. Jack’s little van is painted red, surely that should be a warning sign, but still she gets inside. Uma’s character even mentions off-hand that it was a mistake getting into the van, “You might as well be a serial killer.” she exclaims before Jack smacks her in the face with a steering wheel lock.

Lars uses visual metaphor of a tiger and a lamb to sum up the situation here, Uma’s character is the lamb to the slaughter, nothing more than prey. Already, I am beginning to squirm, especially when I recall Thurman’s story about her mistreatment on the set of Kill Bill…this is crossing the line and far too on the nose. And, I will add that this is taking place one minute into a three-minute trailer, there is still more to come.

uma the house that Jack Built

David Bowie’s Fame begins to play, (“Fame, it’s not your brain, it’s just the flame”) and its an odd choice of music, but then I realise that many serial killers often commit crime for attention (among other sick desires), so the song choice makes sense. We see shots of a young boy catching ducks in a net and holding a pair of scissors to their leg, is this a young Jack? And is Lars suggesting that evil is something you are, not just something you do?

The trailer continues, with more quick shots of shootings, stabbings, and various other unthinkable acts of violence. All shown in a quick succession of one and another, that upon your first viewing, you’re not quite sure what it is that you’ve witnessed. We see Riley Keough‘s character tied up, her face tear-stained and her eyes bloodshot. Jack informs her that “If you feel like screaming, I definitely think you should.” She begins screaming.

We cut to a zoom out of a tower block, with Jack screaming out of the window “No one wants to help.” And, it’s a powerful shot which reflects the vulnerability and helpless that women have to endure in society. As the trailer plays out, we see that Jack has kidnapped a group of men, and has them tied up as he picks them off one by one with a gun…and of course, this is a Lars Von Trier film, regardless of your gender, no one is safe.

The trailer ends with Jack pulling a woman’s body behind his van, leaving a bloody smear mark in the road. It’s such a ghastly sight, that it made me wince and shut my eyes. Jack’s narration tells us that, “Some people claim that the atrocities we commit in our fiction, are those inner desires we cannot commit in civilization. So they are expressed in our art.”

And one wonders, is this Jack talking to us, or is this the director using Jack as a mouthpiece. The trailer ends with a maniacal Jack, his face splattered with blood, looking straight at the camera and into our soul. And, we can almost hear his thoughts…”Watch me, if you dare.” Well, Lars consider your challenge accepted.



  1. ninvoid99 ninvoid99 May 15, 2018

    The reaction that the film received at Cannes wasn’t surprising. In fact, it was exactly what I expected it to be. The fact that 100s of people walked out, vomited, and booed the damn film is a reason why I love Cannes. It’s not the Cannes Film Festival without that kind of mayhem and what would anyone expect from Lars von Trier? After seeing that trailer, I was like “oh Lars…. you’ve done it again you evil bastard.” He thrives on pushing people’s buttons. He thrives on offending everyone. Kanye West is a boy scout compared to Lars. Lars is what cinema needs. He is our Satan and I love him for it.

    • BizziBea BizziBea May 15, 2018

      ” Kanye West is a boy scout compared to Lars. Lars is what cinema needs. He is our Satan and I love him for it.”
      Best line ever! 😀 I laughed so hard…you’re right, cinema needs some chaos

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