'The House That Jack Built' Feels Like Other Horror Movies, But It Won't Be

Buckle up, horror fans.

by Catie Keck

Lest any of us forget about Lars von Trier’s propensity for violence and tedious, often highly involved plot lines, the Danish director has returned with a serial killer film that early audiences have dubbed extremely brutal. The House That Jack Built saw its official trailer release Monday, and the film looks as typically von Trier-esque as one might imagine.

The provocateur is no stranger to disturbing and often gruesome storylines (take, for example, the horrific female genital mutilation science in 2009’s Antichrist as just one example, or virtually any scene from 2013’s two-part Nymphomaniac). But with Jack — which stars Matt Dillon, Bruno Ganz, Uma Thurman, and Riley Keough — poised to be among the director’s most grisly offerings to date, it also feels notably similar to any number of other films in his repertoire both in aethetic and character. It’s probably not to his disservice, either. If ever there were subject matter particularly suited to von Trier’s sadistic style of narrative filmmaking, it’s probably a serial killer’s love affair with his “art.”

The film is set in the 1970s and follows its antagonist through five events that “define Jack’s development as a serial killer,” according to a press release about the film. Described as “highly intelligent,” Jack cannot help but take increasingly risky chances, even as a police probe threatens to foil his murder spree. “The goal is the ultimate artwork: A collection of all his killings manifested in a House that he builds,” the film’s synopsis reads. “Along the way we experience Jack’s descriptions of his personal condition, problems and thoughts through a recurring conversation with the unknown Verge — a grotesque mixture of sophistry mixed with an almost childlike self-pity and in-depth explanations of, for Jack, dangerous and difficult maneuvers.”

Right away the trailer checks out as a von Trier tour de force. And while it does at first read similar to hundreds of horror movies before it, the auteur’s aesthetic and wry sense of humor is present at every turn in the film’s nearly 3-minute trailer. Further, von Trier himself revealed last year that it would be every bit as gnarly as any of his past films, telling The Guardian that it “celebrates the idea that life is evil and soulless, which is sadly proven by the recent rise of the Homo trumpus — the rat king.”

The House That Jack Built premieres out-of-competition this week at Cannes Film Festival. Slash Film reported Monday that while there’s no official release date as of yet, IFC Films is set to distribute Jack “sometime this year.”

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