A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that The House That Jack Built is director Lars von Trier's detached but very, very brutal look at the career of an active serial killer (Matt Dillon). Expect extremely gory, graphic violence -- including bludgeoning, strangling, stabbing, torture, child murder, and manipulation of dead bodies. There's nudity (breasts, other body parts) in a cruel, violent, menacing context. Language includes "f--k" and more. Sensitive viewers are likely to find the movie's content extremely disturbing, and it's absolutely not for kids. Bruno Ganz, Uma Thurman, and Riley Keough co-star.
- Parents say
- Kids say
What's the story?
In THE HOUSE THAT JACK BUILT, Jack (Matt Dillon) -- a methodical, well-funded man with OCD who also happens to be an extremely prolific serial killer -- is being escorted to hell by someone named Verge (Bruno Ganz). Jack and Verge chat about Jack's "career," with plenty of graphic flashbacks to his murderous acts and the "art" projects he undertook using corpses as material. Among his targets: women played by Uma Thurman, Siobhan Fallon Hogan, and Riley Keough.
Is it any good?
Is this relentlessly vicious film a satire on humans' capacity for evil, an examination of psychopathy, or a senseless dive into depravity? Probably all of the above. Celebrated auteur Lars von Trier's cinematic skill can't be denied. Pretty much every film he makes is masterfully executed: His scripts, cinematography, casting, editing, and use of music, as well as the performances he elicits are usually very good. Sometimes great. But his fascinations can lead to places most people wouldn't care to go. Perhaps some of that is artistic courage. Perhaps some is morbid obsession. Whatever the engine, the ride is likely more enjoyable for the driver than the passengers. Von Trier's Nymphomaniac Vol. I & II, for instance, were hard-core sex at its most joyless.
What audience The House That Jack Built might have beyond an extraordinarily narrow, bloodthirsty niche is hard to say. It's a long (152-minute) parade of savagery. And that's the theatrical version; there's also a director's cut, for those who just can't get enough of graphic, close-up murders. If nothing else, von Trier seems to be enjoying himself -- though it's somewhat upsetting to think about what it means that he could make such a barbaric film that seems almost mischievous. The director even refers to himself in Jack, throwing in clips from his previous films as evidence of human malevolence. He also seems to revel in Jack's sadism, especially toward women. It's probably significant that, though Jack also kills men, it's the women we see tortured and brutalized on-screen. Jack and Verge ramble on about Jack's detachment and ambitions, offering descriptions of his behavior that will ring a bell with readers of Jon Ronson's The Psychopath Test, but they never really delve into him as a person with an origin story. The film is very well made, with solid performances and occasional humor (as when Jack incompetently talks his way into a future victim's house), but it's likely to make most viewers sorry they entered the theater.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about The House That Jack Built's extreme violence. Why do you think there's so much of it in the film? Is it necessary to make the film's point? What is the film's point?
Jack says he has killed both men and women. Why, then, do you think all the extreme cruelty and brutality we see on-screen is inflicted on women?
Do you find the experience of watching this film enlightening, thought-provoking, emotional, satisfying? Why?
- In theaters: December 14, 2018
- On DVD or streaming: February 4, 2020
- Cast: Matt Dillon, Bruno Ganz, Uma Thurman, Riley Keough
- Director: Lars von Trier
- Studio: IFC Films
- Genre: Horror
- Run time: 152 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: strong disturbing violence/sadistic behavior, grisly images, language, and nudity
- Last updated: February 3, 2020
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