Had the film version of American Psycho depicted the atrocities described in the novel, it might have resembled The House That Jack Built.
Danish director Lars von Trier has made a career out of inciting outrage, and his darkly comic and often exceedingly vicious portrait of a serial killer is designed as a big FU to his detractors and the ban that saw him exiled from Cannes in 2011.
One of the few von Trier films to feature a male protagonist, The House That Jack Built follows architect, engineer and serial killer Jack (Matt Dillon, in his meatiest role since Drugstore Cowboy) through “five randomly chosen incidents over a 12-year period”.
Jack dreams of building a lake house, but instead creates a charnel one within the dank confines of the meat locker where he preserves his victims.
The House That Jack Built is von Trier at his most complacent. It’s a massive ego rub that appoints the narcissistic Jack as a proxy, while bluntly inserting footage from his prior films as well as rambling ruminations on the nature of art and artists, which punctuate the episodic brutality – some of which matches (and possibly tops) the grisliest moments from Antichrist and the director’s cut of Nymphomaniac.
Fortunately, there are ample moments of pitch black humour to provide respite, like Jack’s OCD compelling him to repeatedly return to a spotless crime scene to check for blood spatter as the police close in, and the makeshift transportation of a corpse back to the freezer.
Despite the blatant self-indulgence and reprehensible violence, The House That Jack Built is an artfully constructed work from a master director. It will have audiences questioning whether they should really be watching something so unrepentantly nasty, which is exactly the kind of reaction a horror film from one of the world’s most brazen and controversial filmmakers should provoke.
The House That Jack Built is in selected cinemas from March 7.
In cinemas: March 7, 2019
Starring: Matt Dillon, Uma Thurman, Bruno Ganz
Directed by: Lars von Trier