Whatever an individual’s opinion may be on them, art house films are an important part of the film industry. From pushing filmmaking boundaries to working with taboo subject, art films pave the way for the better bigger releases larger audiences see. That being said, they are very polarizing.
Art movies divide audiences for many reasons. They target a niche audience, do not always follow traditional movie narratives, and do not tend to cast familiar faces. The big blockbusters also allow for conversations that can be held in sound bites. “That part was awesome! The battle scenes were epic!” Art house movies ask their audience to take time to digest the film. There are usually many talking points, but rarely is there a big “YEAH!!!” moment that provide an immediate shared experience.Whether they are loved or hated, all art films have a charm to them. Whether it is setting, quirky characters or the surrealism, art films have an allure that even their harshest critic can attest to.
Last year’s winner of the most polarizing art movie was Darren Aronofsky’s mother! mother! was met with high praise by some and labeled as a worst movie of the year contender by others. Depending on who you asked, it was either a work of genius or simply pretentious. Critics and moviegoers all disagreed in the same way. It was either a jumbled heavy handed mess or it told a beautiful story.
This year, Lars Van Trier’s The House That Jack Built is getting the obligatory mixed reaction at the Cannes Film Festival the most talked about art films get. Many walked out of the film, yet it also received a standing ovation. IFC Films has turned the mixed crowd reactions into a marketing strategy. While this film is scheduled to release in December, select theaters will be showing a director’s cut of the movie for one night only. Dedicated moviegoers will have a chance to see the movie that caused such such an uproar at Cannes.The House That Jack Built is the story of the titular Jack. Jack is a serial killer who the audience learns about over the course of five acts. The movie is an incredibly violent look at the human condition. In other words, it is an art film.
Van Trier checks off every box for an art house film. There are long scenes of philosophical debate, stock footage of wars and atrocities from over the centuries, and drawn out discussions about the importance of religion. The movie also boasts some great camerawork and a fascinating premise.
What The House That Jack Built is completely devoid of his charm. Jack’s victims are almost impossible to sympathize with. Sure, they are giving ample screen time however, they are never portrayed in a good light. They are constantly shown as weak, stupid, and even deserving of their fate.One of the best things a movie can proved its audience is something to talk about. In this case, are we listening to an unreliable narrator? Or is Jack simply the luckiest serial killer of all time? The House That Jack Built decides to take the fun out of even having that debate and literally tells the audience what we are seeing is a narrative device. It is as if the movie decides there is no point in having a potentially interesting discussion.
The biggest issue with the movie is with Jack himself. It is as if Van Trier did not know what kind of character he wanted Jack to be. At the outset the movie tells you it is about Jack’s development (another case of the movie taking away from its audience) but the audience never sees this. There are slight changes, but the serial killer introduce at the beginning of the movie is no different than the one who kills towards the end.
The House That Jack Built is also full of itself. Most art movies force the audience to think about what they have seen. You may not like the movie but it will definitely provoke discussion. Instead of provoking discussion, Van Trier’s movie tells constantly tell its audience exactly what is happening. There is never a reason to question anything because the movie will gleefully explain it for you.When it is not ruining any conversation pieces, it is rambling aimlessly. It is in these moments, The House That Jack Built seems most proud of itself. There are multiple lines that obviously brought a smile to Van Trier’s face. Dialogue about the “best art being no art” may look cool on a teenager’s Facebook page, but they come off as self indulgent.
Lars Van Trier is a talented filmmaker. Unfortunately, The House That Jack Built is an art film spectacle that ironically follows a cookie cutter pattern. The idea is inspired, but the execution is poor. Lackluster characters and gratuitous graphic violence not only ruin the film but give the entire genre a bad name.