Complete A-Z list

House that Jack Built, The


Stars: Matt Dillon, Bruno Ganz, Uma Thurman, Siobhan Fallon Hogan, Sofie Grabol, Riley Keough, Jeremy Davies, David Bailie

Director: Lars von Trier

'For many years I've made films about good women, now I did a film about an evil man,' says Danish filmmaker von Trier of his extraordinary - and quite frequently nausea-inducing - art movie shocker.

And (in cinematic terms, at least) his subject Jack - chillingly played by Dillon, who for once gives a memorably potent performance instead of his more habitual 'I am a genuine movie star and don't you dare forget dare it!' screen characterisations.

The setting is the US in the 1970s where, in five uncomfortably graphic slaughter sequences, von Trier establishes Dillon's failed architect and all-too-successful sociopathic serial killer Jack in the first of his graphic killings when, giving Thurman a lift after her car breaks down, he smashes her face in with a jack that fails to work.

And that's just the first of a series of vividly graphic slayings the establish Jack as a unique sociopath whose killing sprees make Norman Bates resemble a vegan pacifist.

Von Trier doesn't pull any punches in staging the increasingly disturbing imagery of Dillon's subsequent slayings which include the murder of a mother and her two young children, the carving out of a woman's breasts and, memorably, the 'storing' of his trophy corpses in the cold room of a former restaurant and carrying out his deranged version of taxidermy on the cadavers of his victims.

The House that Jack Built stands out as horrifyingly nasty even in a genre which now offers just about everything bloody and unpleasant that can be passed past the Censor. In that respect I felt it hits as hard and harshly as Michael Powell's Peeping Tom did uniquely in 1960.

It's undoubtedly as grisly a horror show as you could hope to see and, in its own way, racks up indisputably nerve-shredding suspense.

And, while clearly concentrating on the story's horrific elements, Von Trier injects a fascinating splash of intellectual cinematic psychology by examining Dillon's character via the voice of (unseen) Ganz and creating a genuinely creepy descent into hell for Dillon - without ever losing his gripping storytelling momentum.

Alan Frank

Denmark, France, Germany, Sweden 2018. UK Distributor: Artificial Eye. Colour.
152 minutes. Widescreen. UK certificate: 18.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 3, Violence/Horror 3, Drugs 3, Swearing 3.

Review date: 02 Jan 2019