There are plenty of movies out there which have tested the waters of taste and decency – perhaps one of the best known in recent years is the experimental horror The Human Centipede (which, for the sake of all our stomachs, I won’t discuss in detail here) – and as the medium has continued to evolve, and as our tastes have continued to perhaps open up to more and more heightened levels of horror and bile fascination, there are more than a few films still opening which are offering genuine shock and – in some cases – outright outcry. Lars Von Trier – best known for directing movies such as Antichrist, Dogville and Melancholia – is hardly one to shy away from intense themes and subjecting his characters to deep, disturbing turns of events – and it seems that his latest picture, The House That Jack Built, is causing a very negative stir in Cannes – but was this the point?
The movie, starring Matt Dillon and Uma Thurman, centers around the ‘career’ of a serial killer – and, as such, in typical Von Trier fashion, it doesn’t shy away from graphic violence and scenes of an intensely barbaric nature. Reportedly, around 100 people left the recent Cannes debut of the movie, whereafter the picture was referred to variously as being ‘vile’, ‘pathetic’, ‘vomitous’, ‘disgusting’ and more besides. It’s considered to be a dark comedy of the darkest kind – and the brutality involved has turned more than a few stomachs. Viewers invariably advised various media sources that the movie was ‘not entertainment’ – as various characters, including children, are depicted as having been claimed by Von Trier’s fictional killer. Is this a line too far for most moviegoers?
Cannes Film Festival had previously banned Von Trier from attending following jokes he made regarding Nazi sympathy – with the official board referring to his comments in 2011 as being “unacceptable, intolerable and contrary to the ideals of humanity”. Cannes overturned the ban, however, last month – though if reception to his latest film is anything to go by, many may not have seen the worth in doing so. Amidst all the controversy, too, the movie is not faring too well with critics such as the Daily Telegraph’s Robbie Collin referring to The House That Jack Built as being ‘two and a half hours of self-reflexive torture porn with an entire McDonald’s warehouse of chips on its shoulder, and a handful of genuinely provocative ideas which, exasperatingly, go nowhere much’. The movie is expected to launch widely as of this August – though quite how the wider public will perceive it remains a whole other factor.