Lars von Trier is no stranger to controversy when it comes to his work as a filmmaker, but he may well have outdone himself with The House That Jack Built. Von Trier's latest recently premiered at Cannes and caused more than 100 people to walk out of the theater before the movie was even finished. Variety's Ramin Setoodeh called it "one of the most unpleasant movie-going experiences of my life" on Twitter. That seems to be the general feeling from many who witnessed the movie, based on the reactions online and in the first wave of critical reviews.
The House That Jack Built centers on a serial killer, played by Matt Dillon, who focuses on murdering women, but not exclusively. He also reportedly brutally murders some children. In the current Hollywood landscape, it's completely understandable that a movie featuring women being tortured and murdered by a man could cause many to be upset. Uma Thurman, who spoke out against Harvey Weinstein and has been a major voice in the #MeToo movement, is actually in the movie but declined to attend the premiere at Cannes. Her absence was noted by those who did attend. Here's the official synopsis for the movie.
"U.S.A. in the 1970s. We follow the highly intelligent Jack through 5 incidents and are introduced to the murders that define Jack's development as a serial killer. We experience the story from Jack's point of view. He views each murder as an artwork in itself, even though his dysfunction gives him problems in the outside world. Despite the fact that the final and inevitable police intervention is drawing ever near (which both provokes and puts pressure on Jack) he is, contrary to all logic, set on taking greater and greater chances. The goal is the ultimate artwork: A collection of all his killings manifested in a House that he builds. 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."
While most everyone who has seen the movie admits it's vile and horribly gruesome, that has won over a few horror fans and has others online actually excited to see it. But the majority of reactions appear to be veering strongly negative. As one Twitter user put it, "Gross. Pretentious. Vomitive. Torturous. Pathetic." Some have also said The House That Jack Built is already destined for cult status, given the conversation surrounding it. That remains to be seen, but it's clear this is easily going to be one of the most controversial movies of 2018.
It's worth mentioning that Lars von Trier was previously banned from Cannes seven years ago for making jokes about Adolf Hitler. Cannes lifted the ban so that he could show The House That Jack Built this year and it's unclear how they feel about that now, based on the reaction. However, even though the social media reactions have largely been filled with outrage and disgust, the director, whose previous works include other controversial titles like Antichrist and the Nymphomaniac, received a long standing ovation from those who remained in the theater.
The trailer was released just ahead of the movie's debut at Cannes and, when coupled with the reactions, it's quite easy to see why so many people are having such a strong reaction. It looks to be unflinchingly violent and truly extreme. IFC Films has acquired the domestic distribution rights to the movie and will be releasing it later this year, though a specific date has not yet been set. You can check out the trailer for The House That Jack Built, as well as some of the reactions from social media, for yourself below.