After returning to a standing ovation, much of the Cannes crowd walked out of Lars von Trier‘s The House That Jack Built, featuring Matt Dillon (“Wayward Pines”) as a serial killer who views each of his murders as a work of art. It was described as “vile,” “vomitive,” and “torturous,” even though the trailer debut painted it more like a comedy with a heavy American Psycho vibe. It left me wondering, could it really be that bad or was the Cannes audience being too sensitive and overreacting? It immediately called back to when Tom Six premiered his Human Centipede sequel to an angry festival crowd that said he took it too far. In the latter case, Six was provoking the audience in response to the harsh criticism of his first Human Centipede. He WON, which begs the question, did von Trier get exactly what he wanted? Yes, I think each and every person who walked out of the theater last night lost the bet they clearly didn’t know they had accepted the second they purchased a ticket…
Last night’s reactions came in a series of tweets, mostly from those who had walked out of The House That Jack Built. But what about those who took the challenge to the very end? Did they have a different experience? Did they like it? Here are a handful of reviews that grabbed my attention, which sparked from the following tweet:
Lars Von Trier’s The House That Jack Built is an ordeal of gruesomeness and tiresomeness, quite as exasperating as I feared, but leading to what I have to admit is a spectacular horror finale. Review later #Cannes2018 #Cannes71 #Cannes
— Peter Bradshaw (@PeterBradshaw1) May 14, 2018
The Guardian‘s Peter Bradshaw seemed to bring the most balanced take to the table, after sticking through the World Premiere screening at Cannes. He called it “a pseudo-American Psycho” that dragged on too long, although carried a finale that made it worthwhile:
“His latest tongue-in-cheek nightmare The House That Jack Built is two and a half hours long but seems much longer,” he explained. ‘It is an ordeal of gruesomeness and tiresomeness that was every bit as exasperating as I had feared. But it concludes with what I also have to concede is a spectacular horror finale that detonated an almighty épat here in Cannes. The film ends with a colossal but semi-serious bang, an extravagant visual flourish and a cheeky musical outro over the closing credits to leave you laughing in spite of yourself as the house lights come up. But there is silliness and smirkiness where Von Trier believes the delicious black comedy to be.”
TheWrap says is actually boring when it isn’t grossing you out.
“And when you see the reports that 100 people walked out of the Monday night premiere, from which the vast majority of press were excluded, it came as a real surprise that the end of the long, violent, gleefully transgressive film was met with polite applause and only the smallest sprinkling of naysayers.
“But the reaction fit the film — because in between various killings and vivisections, The House That Jack Built is kind of a bore. As much as von Trier loves to push our buttons with graphic imagery, he also wants to get under our skin by talking, talking, talking.
“And while the gore got the headlines, the talk is what sinks the movie.
“The House That Jack Built, on the other hand, seems to be the work of an artist who at the moment doesn’t aspire to do anything other than provoke.”
ScreenDaily seems to think it was actually restrained, and also calls to attention the finale:
“For such intrinsically gory material, Jack is actually relatively restrained, never quite reaching the squeamish highs (or lows) of an Antichrist. But even when von Trier isn’t at the height of his conceptual powers, his mind continues to race, incorporating chapter headings, bizarre pop-culture references, and cheeky inclusions of his previous films. And then for Jack’s last reel, he delivers another of his patented go-for-broke, grandiose finales, exploding our conception of everything we’ve seen before. Like most of Jack, the ending doesn’t altogether succeed, but it’s hard to dismiss. Lars von Trier remains mesmerising, even when he doesn’t quite kill it.”
THR seems to get it, explaining that Lars von Trier’s episodic bloodbath sneers at the controversy that got him banned from Cannes seven years ago.
“Never has Lars von Trier worn the badge of bad-boy provocateur with more pride than in The House That Jack Built, even if it’s not always clear whether the film’s self-importance is mischievous or in earnest.
“Clearly, all this is designed to provoke adverse reactions. But what if instead of outrage and indignation, the response was a numb shrug?”
“Perhaps anesthetizing us to the violence was part of the point. But it makes the murders just grisly punctuation in the didactic voiceover exchanges about Jack’s OCD tendencies, his narcissism, his intelligence, his lack of empathy or his subconscious desire to be caught.”
Variety says that this is a movie that keeps you grimly absorbed and shut out at the same time.
“The House That Jack Built, however, only rarely achieves that level of disturbing poetic awe. The film lopes along in a way that’s grimly absorbing yet, at the same time, falls short of fully immersive.
“It’s halfway between a subversive good movie and a stunt. It’s designed to get under your skin, and does. But it would have gotten under your skin more if it offered a humane counterpart to Jack — if it didn’t remain so fixated on Matt Dillon’s disaffected zombie drone.
“The film keeps pausing for lectures: on the fermenting of grapes, the architecture of cathedrals, the Stuka dive-bomber, and the Nazi concentration camps (which plays as von Trier’s not-so-subtle apologia for his remarks seven years ago.) Jack, in each case, is justifying his actions, treating murder as an art form. Whereas Verge keeps telling him that true art requires love. I think the meaning of all this is that Lars von Trier knows he’s no longer creating films that are fueled by compassion, the way that “Breaking the Waves” was.
“He has become an artist of anger, of addiction, of the kinkiest extremes.”
Collider‘s review was the most interesting, exclaiming that “there is nothing more graphic in this picture than what you’d see in a Final Destination flick.”
“You may have heard about the 100 or so attendees who walked out of Lars Von Trier’s The House That Jack Built during its world premiere at the 71st Festival de Cannes. The horrified attendees were seemingly offended by the actions of the Jack in question (Matt Dillon), a serial killer with OCD.
“Clearly, these people have extremely delicate or attention-seeking dispositions because there is nothing more graphic in this picture than what you’d see in a Final Destination flick.
The House That Jack Built starts off painfully slow. The first two parts especially have little energy or, even worse, originality and feel like a significant miscalculation on the director’s part.”
In the end, “It almost feels like Von Trier is simply trying too hard, and, frankly, that’s a frustrating feeling for anyone to leave a theater with.”