THE HOUSE THAT JACK BUILT by Victoria Alexander

Lars von Trier has carved out his own creative path with fearless energy. I am a great admirer of all his films. Here, von Trier transforms Matt Dillion into a sensation.


At the 2018 Cannes Film Festival, finally after seven years of banishment by the Festival, Lars von Trier presented his latest film, THE HOUSE THAT JACK BUILT. According to IndieWire: “The movie premiered out of competition on May 14 and immediately courted controversy for scenes depicting graphic violence against women, children, and animals. The premiere included dozens of walkouts and reviews were fiercely divided, with some critics praising von Trier’s vision and others slamming it as repulsive.”


After Netflix began airing the true crime documentary, CONVERSATIONS WITH A KILLER: THE TED BUNDY TAPES, social media was filled with glamorized remarks about the notorious serial killer. It got so bad that Netflix had to beg Ted Bundy viewers to stop calling the serial killer ‘hot’ and remind them he’s a convicted killer.


I’ve read a great deal about serial killers: not limited to The Hillside Stranglers, The Yorkshire Ripper, andRichard "The Iceman" Kuklinski. I have a section in my library dedicated to Jack The Ripper. Long ago I read the now yellowed paperback Ted Bundy: Conversations with a Killer” by Stephen G. Michaud and Hugh Aynesworth, that the Netflix 4-part series is based on. The hottest ticket at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival, and best liked by attendees I spoke to, was the film about Ted Bundy: EXTREMELY WICKED, SHOCKINGLY EVIL AND VILE by filmmaker Joe Berlinger and starring Zac Efron as Bundy. When arrested, Bundy admitted to killing at least 30 women but strongly alluded to a three-digit number as the true tally. What is strangely overlooked in the Ted Bundy odyssey is that, even after 2 escapes and a killing rampage across the U.S. from Washington state, Utah and Colorado and who knows where else, Bundy chose to go to Florida for his last killings knowing full well that Florida had the death penalty.|

It has been stated that there are at least 50 serial killers operating in the U.S. Breaking news is that the most prolific serial killer in American history, admitting to 90 murders, is Samuel Little. Luckily, Little has now provided drawings of some of his victims. The FBI has released 16 portraits Little drew of his victims. Well, Little is 78 years old and according to a death row inmate, it’s tough being old in prison. So, in November 2018, Little began making confessions in exchange for a transfer out of the Los Angeles County prison in which he was being held. See below. Over the past 30 years, there have been hundreds of mysterious disappearances and deaths reported from I-80, in particular the portions that pass through Utah, Northern Nevada and parts of Northern California, which have an abnormally high concentration of such cases.  Considering all of the above, why did the assumed sophisticated audience at Cannes react so demonstrably to THE HOUSE THAT JACK BUILT? Was von Trier just one year too early?

Jack (Matt Dillon) is describing just 5 incidents of a 12-year killing spree to Verge (voiced by Bruno Ganz). You assume Jack has been caught and is confessing some of his crimes. Jack has OCD, which severely impairs his killing ritual, always fearing he has left blood or his DNA around his killing sites. Instead of washing his hands endlessly or checking if he locked the front door twenty times or stepped on a crack, Jack keeps returning to make sure he left the place spotless. Yes, I will admit that the crimes are really horrific and very disturbing, but von Trier has not made up anything. It is well-known that some serial killers have staged their victims and taken photographs and made recordings and videos. Nothing in THE HOUSE THAT JACK BUILT has been sprung from the mind of the writer-director. It has all happened and in a much more horrific and cruel way.As a benefit to my readers, SwordandScale.com listed “5 States You’re Most Likely to Encounter a Serial Killer.” They are Washington state, California, Florida, Nevada and listed as Number 1: Alaska. Von Trier intercuts Jack’s relating of these “incidents” with cultural artifacts of mankind’s cruelty. And this, I might suggest, is clearly what von Trier wants to say. The potential for cruelty in the extreme is a survival product of our first primal brain, the Reptilian Brain.

When we are in danger and must respond quickly, as an act of self-preservation, the reptilian structure is aroused, preparing us for action by initiating the release of chemicals throughout the body. Von Trier has shown that an artist can be punished with banishment and creative ostracism if he says something considered offensive. In 2011, von Trier sacrificed his right to have an opinion during a press conference when he began talking about – a truly verboten subject - Adolf Hitler. With Verge, Jack explains himself in terms of historical markers of mass cruelty. He also attempts to show how he tries to “blend in” with ordinary people by practicing making faces of horror, sadness, joy, grief and how to deliver a warm smile. He knows full well that he is an outsider.

Of special brilliance is von Trier using a clip from the 1959 documentary “Off the Record,” of the Canadian pianist Glenn Gould playing Bach. Who is Verge and where does he take Jack? This is best left for the viewer to discover. We do finally see the house that Jack built and the journey he takes by way of the house. Matt Dillon is sensational and electrifying. Of all his victims, Riley Keough as Simple is presented as the most horrific of Jack’s crimes. THE HOUSE THAT JACKBUILT needs to be seen in the context of serial killers and evil people’s justification for their acts. “You see, in this world, there is one awful thing, and that is that everyone has his reasons.”  There are two versions of THE HOUSE THAT JACK BUILT. The Europe and Canada version is the director’s cut. The U.S. market has a version with a missing 4 minutes.* *’House That Jack Built’ Director’s Cut Release Pushed to 2019 Because IFC Dared to Defy the MPAA, Slashfilm.com, Posted on December 9, 2018 by Chris Evangelista. Oh, IFC Films. Now you’ve gone and done it. After failing to get the appropriate waiver to screen the unrated The House That Jack Built director’s cut last week, IFC Films is now pushing the official release date back a few months. The House That Jack Built director’s cut release was originally set for next week, but this MPAA kerfuffle has bumped Lars von Trier‘s controversial serial killer flick into June of 2019. A quick recap: last week, IFC Films made headlines by screening the unrated director’s cut of Lars von Trier’s The House That Jack Built in select theaters for one night only. IFC then planned to release the director’s cut, along with an R-rated cut, On-Demand next week, December 14. The R-rated cut would also play in select theaters. Here’s the problem: the MPAA doesn’t take kindly to screening an unrated cut of a movie so close to an R-rated cut. IFC could have done this smoothly had they acquired an appropriate waiver from the MPAA. But they didn’t. And the MPAA wasn’t happy.

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... and von Trier's recreation in The House That Jack Built.

The MPAA threatened sanctions against IFC if they went ahead with their planned release, leading to IFC to change course. Now, The House That Jack Built director’s cut won’t arrive until June 2019. That date is tentative, so it might change. But if you managed to catch the director’s cut in theaters last week, you’re among a privileged few to witness it long before most people will have the chance. The R-rated cut release will continue as planned, arriving in select theaters and On-Demand December 14, 2018. For what it’s worth, I’ve heard from credible sources that the unrated cut and R-rated cut are almost identical. Indeed, the different in runtime between the two is only about four minutes. Sure, a lot could happen in four minutes, but nothing too detrimental. In other words, the version you’ll be able to watch next week won’t be much different than the version that arrives in June of 2019. In The House That Jack Built, director Lars von Trier follows Jack (Matt Dillon), a “failed architect and vicious sociopath” through five acts as he “recounts his elaborately- orchestrated murders — each, as he views them, a towering work of art that defines his life’s work as a serial killer in the Pacific Northwest.” Also starring Bruno GanzUma Thurman,Siobhan Fallon HoganSofie GråbølRiley Keough, and Jeremy Davies, the film premiered at Cannes, where it was met with a negative reaction (although since then, many have praised the film).


For a complete list of Victoria Alexander's movie reviews on Rotten Tomatoes go to: rottentomatoes.com/critic/victoria-alexander/ Contributing to: FilmsInReview: filmsinreview.com FilmFestivalToday: filmfestivaltoday.com Las Vegas Informer Group: lasvegas.informermg.com/ Member of Las Vegas Film Critics Society: lvfcs.org