The House That Jack Built (2 stars)

The House That Jack Built

Cannes 2018: Brazenly provocative, ultimately empty serial killer thriller from Lars von Trier

Lars von Trier was declared 'persona non grata' at the Cannes Film Festival seven years ago after he made a flippant remark about sympathising with Hitler at a press conference for Melancholia. His return to the festival and follow-up to 2013's Nymphomaniac is a juvenile depiction of a male serial killer who takes up murder on a whim – after an annoying woman suggests he doesn't have it in him – and comes to view his killing as great art.

As the film opens, all we know of Verge (Bruno Ganz) is that he is guiding Jack (Matt Dillon) somewhere. We only hear his voice as he dares Jack to tell him something surprising about his 12-year murder spree. You see, he's heard it all before and nothing shocks him. The film is split into five different 'incidents', or murders, each one becoming more elaborate in its execution. A little like The Five Obstructions, the serial killer sets himself new challenges to capture and enhance the thrill of his craft. He takes photos of the corpses in strange locations and positions and sends them to the press to gain notoriety.

Dillon is convincingly sinister in the lead role, whether he's scrambling about, wickedly strangling and torturing women (played by Uma Thurman, Siobhan Fallon Hogan, Sofie Gråbøl and Riley Keough), ineptly hiding bodies in a giant lock-up freezer, or hunting children and using them as playthings. If you haven't already guessed, Von Trier is having a self-indulgent ball, poking fun at his body of work and the notion that he hates women, while also toying with the tropes of the serial killer thriller.

The thing is, as the film wears relentlessly on, certain violent segments, though intriguing, don't really lead anywhere new or interesting. Von Trier has a right laugh, prodding his critics with images of the Holocaust, and using his protagonist as a mouthpiece for empty apologies. But all it amounts to is narcissistic gesturing and it's difficult to get offended by such obvious provocation.

Screening as part of the Cannes Film Festival 2018. General release TBC.

The House That Jack Built

  • 2 stars
  • 2018
  • Denmark / France / Germany / Sweden
  • Directed by: Lars Von Trier
  • Cast: Matt Dillon, Bruno Ganz, Uma Thurman, Sofie Gråbøl

Jack (Dillon) is a serial killer who takes up murder after an annoying woman suggests he doesn’t have it in him. Dillon is convincingly sinister, but it’s just Von Trier playing with killer thriller tropes and poking fun at perceptions of himself, and it’s difficult to get offended by such an obvious attempt to provoke.