THE HOUSE THAT JACK BUILT (October 3rd)
YOU'VE GOT RED ON YOU TAKES PART IN THE 31 DAYS OF HALLOWEEN CHALLENGE; WATCHING ONE HORROR MOVIE A DAY THROUGHOUT OCTOBER. SOME OF THEM OLD, SOME OF THEM NEW, SOME OF THEM HAVE JUST BEEN ON OUR SHELVES FOR YEARS GATHERING DUST, STILL IN CELLOPHANE...
There's a small part of me that grimaces when I'm faced with a movie that's over two hours in length. I'm not really sure why that is. Perhaps, like most other people, I've convinced myself that my life is so busy that affording more than a couple of hours to watch a movie is too much of a luxury. Or maybe it's just the prospect of remaining seated for that length of time that turns me off a little (invariably I will get up a couple of times during a film to get something to eat or something). The thing is that the viewing experience of films of this length are never really a problem once I start watching. And afterwards I usually reach the conclusion that the extra running time has only added a bit more depth and weight to the movie. Regardless of this, my reluctance still remains and there are a few titles that I really want to see but haven't dipped into yet. One of these is (or was) Lars Von Trier's controversial film 'The House That Jack Built' – you know, the one that made audience members walk out of at Cannes.
You always know that you're going to get a certain level of weirdness and discomfort from Von Trier. I have only seen Antichrist once but it kinda feels like that was enough. I didn't dislike the film but it was just not a viewing experience that I am tempted to relive any time soon. I think most of his body of work is like that to some degree. Melancholia, Dogma – even Dancer in the Dark, all thought provoking, interesting and engaging, but all uniquely grim. 'The House that Jack Built' is no different.
On some level you just get the sense that Von Trier wants to offend audiences but there's more to the madness than that. He rarely shows violence or gore for the sheer hell of it. It's usually done to make a wider point or to force the audience (even if it's subconsciously) to ask questions of themselves and their moral compass. Is some ways I can see why certain audience members walked out. Slicing off a woman's breasts, shooting children and cutting off the legs of baby animals are all objectively vile and horrible things to witness. But then I am not sure what people going into a Von Trier film are expecting. It's like going into a musical and getting annoyed that people keep singing. Von Trier himself has stated that the film is a celebration of the idea that life is evil and soulless. And he ain't wrong.
Matt Dillon is also pretty sensational as the eponymous lead, a man who is completely deranged but who narrates the whole thing as a recounting of 'incidents', whilst he references art, life, death, Nazis and other lofty ideas and subjects. The film is as philosophical as it is bloody, but there is a strong undercurrent of black comedy running throughout the film. Some parts of it feel so absurd you are wondering if you aren't witnessing some Patrick Bateman style illusion or something. Jack is not just a serial killer you see, he is a serial killer with OCD – he likes things to be meticulously clean and there's one scene where he revisits a murder scene multiple times because he's so convinced that he hasn't cleaned all the blood away. This stuff shouldn't be amusing in any way but it is – and there are numerous scenes where you find yourself reluctantly sniggering when you know you probably shouldn't be. Or maybe that's just me, maybe I'm just a bit sick in the head? The way The House Jack Built represents women is also cause for concern. For the most part, they're rather dim-witted and gullible and offer no real resistance to our psychotic lead. 'It's always the man's fault' bemoans Jack at one point, after he claims that men are 'born guilty'. He seems to disagree with that concept, just as he is about to mutilate another poor victim.
Most people don't tend to sit on the fence with this particular director's films. Some think they're the height of artistic film-making whilst others just find his style and ideas to repulsive and exploitative. And yet I find myself somewhere in the middle with this particular Von Trier feature. On the one hand it's really competently made and always fascinating but on the other the cold detachment of the lead and the story itself makes it hard to warm to it in any real way. It's like a fine piece of abstract art that can be admired and discussed from a certain distance but that offers no real closure or real sense of satisfaction.