The House that no one asked for; our modern obsession with killers

Title: The House that Jack Built (2018)

Director: Lars Von Trier

The world has a very morbid curiosity with serial killers.

This can often border on voyeurism; hours and hours of consuming endless documentaries detailing heinous crimes that are enough to prevent you from all forms of social interaction, ever. We occasionally enhance this experience even further in our shared consciousness by watching films so graphic, that just in case those police tapes or interviews didn’t leave an impact, the Hollywood reenactments definitely will.

So why? Why do we seem to care so much about these men and women that do such terrible things? I read somewhere that we feel a need to know these dangers to make us appreciate how close we are to them on a daily basis, to look out for signs as it were. I disagree. I’m no psychologist, but I think humans have always had a fascination with the subversive, the extreme, the sick underbelly of what could be. “Could I be a serial killer?” You may ask “let me watch all these documentaries and see what the links are? What did they do? Why?” And it is in many ways just as intriuging as it is disturbing; how some of us can walk around, killers in plain sight? Watching The Ted Bundy tapes is a bit like a modern equivalent to visiting Bedlam, only you can pause occasionally.

So what do we actually learn from sitting through hours of police material, tapes, and reconstructions? Well, we may learn what Lars Von Trier seemingly learnt in his serial killer binge while researching this movie. Von Trier apparently spent a few months “intensively” studying everything he could about killers to make this film as believable and convincing as possible. He probably learnt that we are likely to remember ugly little details like body count; we recall if they buried the victims alive, or ate them, perhaps if they had some weird fetish or did something particularly unsettling with the bodies. Nasty grisly little details it seems, are really at the epicenter of this entire film.

The end product of his “research” is a truly unnecessary and unengaging two and a half hour journey of exhaustion. Lars Von Trier should’ve really used his time and energy doing something else. Literally anything else.

Jack is played by Matt Dillon, and could easily be Ted Bundy or Dahmer or any of those other 70s bad boys who got away with murder for excessively long periods of time. Jack is in many ways a cliche; he’s a sociopathic intellectual who through an unfortunate combination of narcissism and lack of empathy has become a killer. He wears thick framed glasses like Dahmer, he is socially very charming, sometimes he pretends to be disabled and uses crutches…all these things we have grown to associate with creepy dudes who like to kill. Jack is also an architect who is obsessed with high brow art and culture. Von Trier perhaps thought would be the separation between this movie and run of the mill torture porn. We learn very early on that Jack has killed over sixty people during his twelve years of activity but due to time restrictions (I’ll use this term fluidly) we delightfully only get to see five of these massacres at random.

The body count mounts up, quite literally in a giant freezer, somewhere outside of the city. We occasionally see Jack transporting the corpses back to their orginal place of murder for macabre photoshoots and yes, it is exactly as grim as it sounds.

The death scenes themselves are graphic and really over the top detailed; exactly what you grow to expect from Von Trier and exactly what created all the hype about this film in the first place. Everything else is so bland and unengaging that you almost wonder what the point is. It’s as though the death scenes are as over the top as possible to leverage what’s essentially a pretty dull film about a pretty irritating bloke. In the process of being a cinematic troll, Von Trier will actively try to push your buttons; he will stop at nothing, showing things like a kid being murdered, or a duck getting its legs casually clipped off. One of the final scenes displays a house that Jack literally builds out of a mountain of corpses. Fab.

The violence against women was my biggest issue with this film as it’s such indulgent and thinly veiled misogyny that not even art can explain it. In which world does no one fight back? So many opportunities and no person actually uses their brain, no one ever really TRIES to stop Jack from killing them. There is a scene where a girl is standing right by a knife rack…..right by it and nothing. This actively reinforces the idea of passive victim vs master manipulators; how the men who committed murders were somehow EXTREMELY smart and cunning, (and as Bundy is constantly described good looking and Kennedy-esque) and all their female victims are somehow really naive and uninformed; its male superiority in all its glory. Jack literally calls one of his victims “simple” and she continues spending the evening with him, insecurity is one thing, but that whole incident made me cringe with disbelief.

The whole film made me cringe

Lars Von Try hard makes me cringe

I would’ve been happier with a human centipede type scenario because at least you know what you’re getting. This failed and miserable attempt at a portrayal is not even remotely elevated or as interesting as a gore fest because it’s just so utterly dull. If you want to know about serial killers there are at least 6000 titles to choose from on Netflix.

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