The House That Jack Built

HORROR; 2hr 32min

STARRING: Matt Dillon, Bruno Ganz

The blood of others: Dillon

“The House That Jack Built” started its life as a British nursery rhyme whose lengthening verses coil into each other in self-perpetuating riffs. (This is the dog that worried the cat / That killed the rat that ate the malt / That lay in the house that Jack built…) In Nymphomaniac filmmaker Lars von Trier’s nose-thumbing horror House, Jack (Dillon, up for anything) is a cerebral, OCD-afflicted serial killer and self-described psychopath whose victims over 12 years are the components of his evolving artistic showpiece.


In the course of five grisly “Incidents,” Jack goes about the dirty business of bashing, strangling, shooting and slicing, his messianic diligence buttoned slyly inside the mild forgettability of the insurance salesman he at one point unconvincingly pretends to be. Through his ongoing conversation with an unseen man he refers to as Verge (Ganz), the careworn lunatic reveals himself as a self-obsessed perfectionist for whom the compulsion of killing lies less in the acts themselves than in the outlandish tableaux he constructs with his corpses (which he then likes to photograph and send, signed Mr Sophistication, to a local newspaper).


As per, Von Trier keeps Jack’s twisted business strictly verite. The lighting and locations are proudly spartan and chunks of dialogue are marred by a sloppy, improvisational vibe. But this is no mere catalogue of killings. With his distinctive absurdist flair, the rascally Danish button-pusher enlivens the morbid proceedings by interspersing them with side trips into metaphysical mini-dissertations and snapshots of wannabe architect Jack’s frustrated efforts to build himself—yes indeedy—a house. And damned if he doesn’t get there in the end (damned being the operative word) in a staggering turn of events that blows any shreds of earthly logic off the map. No two ways about it: the moral majority may fume and stew but LvT still has the last laugh.