The House That Jack Built [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray ALL - Australia - Umbrella Entertainment
Review written by and copyright: James-Masaki Ryan (20th October 2019).
The Film

"The House That Jack Built" (2018)

Jack (played by Matt Dillon) is a serial killer, who killed quite a number of people within a dozen years, and stored the corpses in his warehouse freezer. In conversation with the mysterious entity that calls himself Verge (played by Bruno Ganz), he recalls five incidents of his killings, while also discussing about art, music, architecture, and childhood. In the incidents seen, Jack is not exactly a well planned killer. His first victim (played by Uma Thurman) was more or less done as retaliation against a frustrating woman passing through town which causes him to suddenly snap. The second victim, a widow (played by Siobhan Fallon Hogan) has Jack pretending to be a cop and his lies being very badly planned out, as well as his method of killing. But from thereon, Jack's methods and tactics become much more precise and obsessive. Jack is obsessive compulsive, and also an architect who is longing to design and build his dream house, but time and other constraints have left that dream unfinished. With the dozens of bodies throughout the years and his obsession moving from the home towards killing, will Jack be able to finish his masterpiece?

Filmmaker Lars Von Trier is no stranger to controversy and making extreme films over the years, all being chronicled in the narrative itself as well as in the behind the scenes stories and his sometimes questionable outbursts, which at one time banned him from the Cannes Film Festival. Von Trier was able to return with his latest film "The House That Jack Built", in which the main character is a serial killer and the film is seen entirely through his perspective. It's not particularly the first as he has experimented in on screen killings in brutal fashion in works such as "Element of the Crime" or "Dancer in the Dark" in the past. While those films showed the consequences and the trauma, "The House That Jack Built" goes more into the unending madness of the main character. There is one scene where the police nearly catch him but he is able to awkwardly and narrowly escape from the location, but this is not a film that showcases the law enforcement's side of the cases, and only through the killer. It's extremely cold, brutal, violence, and also frustrating funny as there are situations where Jack is completely inept.

The work of Jack and his killings show a progression in competence, without trauma or guilt, and for the viewers this can be incredibly hard to stomach. When he kills two children (played by Rocco Day and Cohen Day with a rifle in front of their mother (played by Sofie Gråbøl), it's very disturbing, but making it worse is him making her feed the corpses during a picnic, and how later he has the one grumpy boy on display in the freezer with an Aphex Twin-looking smile. The killings are not apologetic, lacking morals, and shocking. There are references to the poetry of William Blake as well as the Christian Bible within the film, especially with the final sequence which takes the film to a bizarre turn, literally downward to the depths of hell.

Like many of Von Trier's works, the style is his own. Handheld documentary style camerawork, music being mostly non-existent, and extreme violence being shown on screen. Although it is mostly quiet with dialogue and natural sounds for most of the duration, David Bowie's "Fame" kicks in a few times to a booming surprise, as well as pianist Glenn Gould playing "Partita No. 2 in C minor" in sequences in between. It's difficult to place where Von Trier was going with the story. Is Jack some sort of parallel of Von Trier? A man whose craft starts as an amateur and later goes towards a meticulous and brutal path? Even in the later segments, a montage of scenes from Von Trier's other films play, which blurs the line between the metaphysical wall of the filmmaker acknowledging his own works existing within his works. It's certainly not a comfortable experience to see, as the lengthy film is one that takes its time and unsettles the viewer with the lengthy time before the killings, during the killings, and the post killings with no one left in a particularly safe zone. Matt Dillon's performance of Jack is fine but not particularly deep, with much seen on the surface but not deep within. His backstory can be seen in some home movies and some of his discussions with Verge, but there is a lot unanswered and probably not wanting to be answered either.

The film opened at the 2018 Cannes Film Festival to sharply divided views, with many walkouts at the premiere, though it received a lengthy standing ovation. Some critics were very positive on the sincere brutality and the structure. Others were disturbed by the lack of morality and the extreme violence. Even with the divisiveness the film received quite a few awards, including two at the Danish Film Awards and six at the Black Sea Film Festival.

Note this is a region ALL Blu-ray.

Video

Umbrella Entertainment presents the film in the theatrical 2.35:1 aspect ratio in 1080p AVC MPEG-4. Shot on the Arri Alexa Mini with some archival footage in between, the film looks very good coming from the digital master. Colors are very natural in tone with skin colors as well as the natural surrounding seen, with a slightly dark hue overall. Black levels are fair with the very dark sequences, and light scenes such as the family massacre being very brightly lit outdoors. The archival footage is windowboxed in the original 1.33:1 ratio, which have its defects with cuts and scratches from the original film source. It's a very good transfer without any particular errors to speak of.

The film is the uncut version that played at Cannes, running 152:08.

Audio

English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
The sole audio track is a lossless 5.1 track. It's a talky film with most of the audio coming from the center channel, though when "Fame", rain, gunshots, and other sounds come in, the surrounding speakers do get a workout. The volume is slightly on the low side, so be sure to raise the level a little to balance things out. There are no issues with hisses, pops, or cracks to speak of.

There are no subtitles offered on the film.

Extras

Unfortunately no extras have been provided. Not even the trailer. There is no menu screen, as the film plays on start-up automatically. The trailer which is not on the disc has been embedded below.




Currently the film is available on Blu-ray in the UK, Germany, and Scandinavia. All three have a lengthy interview with Von Trier while the UK disc has additional extras including a making-of featurette.

Packaging

The packaging states "Region B only" but is actually region ALL.

Overall

"The House That Jack Built" is not Von Trier's magnum opus, nor is it a terrible film. But it seems to lack a certain moral direction and the bizarre turn in the ending was as cold as the freezer that the bodies were stacked in. The Umbrella Entertainment Blu-ray features great video, good but slightly low volume audio, and unfortunately without extras.

The Film: C+ Video: A- Audio: B+ Extras: F- Overall: C+

 


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