• The House That Jack Built (Shout! Factory) Blu-ray Review

    Released by: Shout! Factory
    Released on: February 4th, 2020.
    Director: Lars von Trier
    Cast: Matt Dillon, Bruno Ganz, Uma Thurmon, Riley Keough, Siobhan Fallon Hogan, Jeremy Davies
    Year: 2018
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    The House That Jack Built – Movie Review:

    Set in Washington state in the 1970’s, Lars von Trier’s 2018 film The House That Jack Built introduces us to, well, a guy named Jack (Matt Dillon). Through conversations with a man named Verge (Bruno Ganz) that, initially at least, we hear but don’t see we spend a decade or so with him and very quickly learn that he’s a remorseless serial killer with a penchant for extreme cruelty.

    We witness this first when he picks up a pushy hitchhiker (Uma Thurman) stranded at the side of the road. Initially agreeing to take her a few miles away so a blacksmith can repair her tire jack, he eventually winds up smacking her in the face with the instrument in the first of the film’s frequent gory set pieces. He then stashes her corpse in a giant walk-in freezer that he’s purchased specifically to hide the corpses of his victims. From there, Jack impersonates first a cop and then an insurance agent to make his way into the home of a widowed woman (Siobhan Fallon Hogan) under the false pretense that he can get her more money for her pension. She winds up stabbed to death and Jack winds up fleeing from the cops, her corpse dragged behind his red van all the way to the freezer, the blood washed away in the rain. At this point, Jack starts ‘signing’ his crimes as Mr. Sophistication.

    As the story goes on, we see Jack prey a single mother (Sofie Gråbøl) and her two children, we see a flashback to his childhood where he cruelly cuts a single webbed foot off of a duckling, we witness Jack dealing with the closest thing he ever really had to a girlfriend (Riley Keough), referred to as ‘Simple,’ and then, eventually, we learn how Jack’s story ends – and during all of this, Jack, an engineer by trade we’re told, tries to build himself a house.

    A knowledge of Goethe’s Faust and Dante’s Inferno will help viewers put together the bizarre ending to this one, as von Trier makes multiple references to those works, especially in the film’s rather fittingly bizarre finale. Von Trier also makes explicit visual references to some of his own, earlier films and to the work of John Cassavetes, Mighty Mouse cartoons, Bob Dylan videos, The Doors’ lyrics, classical art like La Barque de Dante by Eugène Delacroix (which was in turn influenced by Jean-Louis André Théodore Géricault's The Raft Of The Medusa... who says you can't learn about culture by listening to The Pogues!) and, of course, serial killers like Richard Kuklinski, Ted Bundy, Jack The Ripper and Adolf Hitler (which is interesting for many reasons, not the least of which is the casting of Bruno Ganz who played Hitler in Downfall). The devil truly is in the details when it comes to just how much ‘stuff’ von Trier has crammed into what, on the surface at least, is a deceptively simple tale of a man who enjoys killing people. Is there more to it than that? Of course, though whether or not von Trier’s self-proclaimed attempt to celebrate the “the idea that life is evil and soulless” works or not will, obviously, differ from one viewer to the next. The movie pretty much states this in the scene where Jack deals with ‘Simple,’ where he tells her to scream as much as she wants because no one cares. If nothing else, it should make you question why you watch horror pictures of overtly violent films while, at the same time, demand you pay close attention to it in order to really take it all in. There’s a lot going on here.

    The is, for the most part, entirely Matt Dillon’s show and to give credit where credit is due, he makes the most of it. Supporting work from Uma Thurman and Siobhan Fallon Hogan is excellent. Bruno Ganz is great (though the vast majority of his work is done via voice over). The supporting players all do a fine job. But it’s Dillon, typically cast as a handsome male lead rather than a human monster as he is here, who really stands out. He’s fantastic as Jack, often times as wryly funny as he is genuinely frightening. Von Trier and company have done an excellent job of ensuring that he looks the part, taking away any of the matinee idol qualities he had in his younger days and replacing them with weird, quirky, greasy qualities, the kind that would instantly make you uncomfortable to be around him.

    Visually, the film is pretty solid. Some of the digital effects work and backgrounds don’t quite hold up under scrutiny but there’s a very definite sense of style here. Von Trier brings in clips from various sources already stated, using animation here and there, pulls from stock footage of various wars and atrocities and more to keep the film fresh looking and unique enough in its style to keep our eyes interested in what happens. At two-and-a-half-hours in length, the film is on the long side but it doesn’t drag even if, for the first three quarters of its running time, visually it’s little more than a series of grotesque visual set pieces. Pay attention to the dialogue between Jack and Verge, however, and you’ll get more out of this than just cheap, gory thrills.

    Note that this Blu-ray release from Shout! Factory includes both the full strength, completely intact director’s cut version (2:32:33) as well as the edited theatrical cut of the picture (2:31:01).

    The House That Jack Built – Blu-ray Review:

    Both versions of the movie get their own 50GB disc. The theatrical cut takes up just over 48GBs of space on its disc while the longer director’s cut gets just under 39GBs of space (to accommodate the interview included in the extra features). The AVC encoded 2.35.1 widescreen 1080p high definition picture looks good. The film was shot digitally so there are no issues with any print damage, dirt or debris. Detail is generally very strong, though some of the scenes with heavy CGI use don’t look as sharp as some of the other scenes. Either way, this looks to be a perfectly nice representation of the source material.

    Audio options for both versions of the feature are provided in English language 24-bit DTS-HD 5.1 and 2.0 Stereo Master Audio tracks and they sound quite strong. There are no alternate languages but English subtitle options provided. The use of Bowie’s ‘Fame’ sounds great here, in fact all the music used in the film sounds really good. Dialogue is clean and clear and the levels are properly balanced. There are no problems with any hiss or distortion to note.

    Extras on the first disc are limited to a theatrical trailer for the feature, a teaser and bonus trailers for Radioflash, Greener Grass and The Nightingale) but disc two does include a quick intro from Von Trier as well as an interview with Von Trier that runs twenty-seven-minutes. Here he speaks with The University Of Copenhagen's Professor Peter Schepelern about the film’s reception and winning the Sonning Prize and his thoughts on film awards in general, how he can’t really explain the logic of his films, how he tries to ‘make the films that are otherwise never made,’ his thoughts on alcohol and self-medication, the character of Jack and how he differs from other serial killers, how it was an easy screenplay to write, the ‘whole Hitler affair’ and more.

    The House That Jack Built – The Final Word:

    The House That Jack Built won’t suit all tastes, von Trier’s films never do, but it’s engaging, repulsive and occasionally quite funny, a well-made film that deliberately pushes the audiences’ buttons. It doesn’t always work perfectly, but it’s very much a film worth seeing for anyone with an appreciation for von Trier’s tendencies or an interest in seeing Matt Dillon convincingly play a serial killer. Shout’s Blu-ray release offers up both versions of the film as well as an interesting interview with Von Trier and a solid presentation for the feature.

    Click on the images below for full sized The House That Jack Built Blu-ray screen caps!