Lars von Trier’s Inner Demons

Director Lars von Trier has reached the point in his acclaimed career where he’s really making films for himself. Since the provocative and extreme Antichrist, he’s gone off the proverbial deep end into harsher material exploring the deepest recesses of the human psyche. The House That Jack Built continues the trend as it goes inside the personal hell of a tormented psychopath.

Starring Matt Dillon as a serial killer, the movie is a series of five vignettes that reveal his character’s inner psychosis. Alongside Dillon are supporting turns by Bruno Ganz, Uma Thurman, Riley Keough, and Siobhan Fallon Hogan. Ganz (Downfall) plays a mysterious voice known only as Verge that speaks with Jack.

Decadent and alienating, The House That Jack Built is a grind to sit through in one outing. The unrated director’s cut runs 152 minutes and grows increasingly bizarre, covering anything that interests the director. It’s a brutal self-examination by Lars von Trier deconstructing himself and his own movie career.

The House That Jack Built is radical, almost destructive filmmaking made for European arthouses

The filmmaker injects his own musings on art, mortality, architecture, cultivating grapes, and other asides into the narrative. Dark thoughts on religion, sex, family, and the human condition play out as Jack grapples with his inner demons.

I suppose one could call The House That Jack Built a genre movie. Superficially, the pitch-black movie is about a serial killer and his brutal murders. Jack (Matt Dillon) is an engineer that actually wanted to be an architect. He recounts the five most important murders in his “career” over the past twelve years, explaining how he got away with them.

Suffering from OCD and a cleaning compulsion, Jack is not your garden-variety serial killer. Lacking any of the charm or sophistication of Anthony Hopkins’ Hannibal Lector, the vignettes portray a man driven by his compulsions. Are Jack’s inner struggles a metaphor for Lars von Trier’s career?

The House That Jack Built is radical, almost destructive filmmaking made for European arthouses familiar with Lars von Trier’s greatest hits. It’s not smooth or easy storytelling made for mainstream audiences. If Avengers: Endgame is made solely for commercial concerns, this is the complete opposite. It is art for art’s sake. Overly long and meandering, the whole movie needs tighter pacing and some culling.

Call it daring and call it bold, but don’t call The House That Jack Built a good movie.

Video

Scream Factory has taken the route of giving each cut its own separate BD-50. The unrated director’s cut runs 152 minutes, while the R-rated theatrical cut runs 151. Both are encoded in satisfactory AVC presentations with the movie’s intended 2.40:1 aspect ratio.

The House That Jack Built is less concerned with pristine video and aims for a more involving cinematic experience with gritty visuals. A certain tone and mood are struck for each episode in Jack’s life, informed by the film’s musings on art.

Filmed with an ARRI Alexa Mini camera, detail and definition are fairly average by today’s lofty standards. The color grading often informs flashbacks and other specific settings in the narrative, changing from brighter colors to a darker shading when necessary. The 1080P video has a few minor shadow delineation issues. The House That Jack Built’s picture quality is best described as lackluster. It only picks up in clarity and razor-sharp definition near the end as Jack’s journey is nearly over.

Audio

The House That Jack Built’s 5.1 DTS-HD MA audio gets the job done with an active mix and occasionally overpowering bass. David Bowie’s “Fame” is used several times, mixed loudly across the front soundstage.

Surround placement adds a palpable sense of presence immersing the listener with rear cues and activity. Crisp dynamics and cleanly recorded dialogue lend themselves to a strongly discrete presentation. There’s nothing particularly subtle in the audio; the surround mix places you in the middle of frequently active cues.

English SDH and Spanish subtitles play in a white font, always inside the 2.40:1 widescreen frame. A secondary 2.0 DTS-HD MA soundtrack in stereo is included.

Extras

Scream Factory brings Lars Von Trier’s latest film in a 2-BD edition, including separate theatrical cut and unrated director’s cut on a second disc. A slipcover is available. The Blu-rays are coded for Region A.

Having already seen release in several countries, this Scream Factory BD includes some exclusive special features and the only edition with the theatrical cut. The Region B UK release has slightly longer special features.

Sonning Prize: An Interview With Lars Von Trier (26:46 in HD) – In Danish with English subtitles, Lars discusses his career, his own alcoholism, and some of his personal philosophies toward filmmaking.

The House That Jack Built Announcement (00:27 in HD)

Lars Von Trier Greeting (00:27 in HD)

Cannes Teaser (00:23 in HD)

Theatrical Trailer (02:32 in HD)

IFC Films Trailers (06:40 in HD) – Trailers for Radioflash, Greener Grass and The Nightingale play before the main menu of disc 2.

Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided to us for review. This has not affected the editorial process. For information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page to learn more.

The House That Jack Built
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Lars Von Trier tests his audience’s patience with a boundary-pushing serial killer film that ends up being a long meditation on the director’s own life and career.

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