The House That Jack Built (2018)

One from the to watch pile…

The House That Jack Built (2018)

Film: It is a strange thing that sometimes, the viewing of a film makes you realise that you haven’t experienced a particular director’s work at all. Before starting the review on this film, The House That Jack Built, written and directed by Lars Von Trier, I looked at the directors filmography and discovered that even though I have both volumes of Nymphomaniac and Antichrist, I don’t remember actually watching them.

This is why this is called the To Watch Pile: too many movies, too little time.

Von Trier originally perceived this film as a television series, which it would have possibly suited considering it is played out episodic in a series of 5 ‘Incidents’ that take place over a 12 year period from the 70s to the 80s.

The House That Jack Built tells the story of architect, engineer and serial killer, Jack (Matt Dillon), and a discussion he is having with Verge (Bruno Ganz), a disembodied voice whose identity we eventually discover, but to share here would be to spoil the ending.

The two are looking over a series of incidents, in reality murders, that Jack has committed on various victims (played by Uma Thurman, Siobhan Fallon Hogan, Sophie Gråbøl, Riley Keough and others) that Jack attempts to justify as psychological soothing acts which result in art. Jack and Verge explore Jack’s origins as well as his state of mind during the acts, and the highs and lows of the act of murder itself.

This is a quite fascinating look at the functions of a serial killers mind, and Von Trier has done his research. Von Trier doesn’t just reference psychology though, as Jack finds justifications for his ‘art’ everywhere, and his fractured thought process is shown through archival footage from hunts, World War 2 newsreels, cartoons… everywhere really, and it represents the state of mind perfectly.

One thing I can say is that even though its a discussion on serial killers, their acts and their origins, it certainly doesn’t mind showing you the acts of violence and the ensuing gore or the results of the violence, and even though it appears to be practical special effects, some of them aren’t necessarily great… but that also might be the point: it’s hard to tell whether Von Trier’s restrictions are deliberate, or an accident of budget or lighting. There is also a little bit of animal violence, both in the afore mentioned archival footage of hunting and special effects, so if that’s something that completely and utterly repulses you, this film definitely isn’t for you.

Von Trier’s camera style is unusual too. The whole film is told in this almost voyeuristic news camera-styled look that perpetually moves and keeps every scene, no matter how static, interesting.

The casting is fantastic too. It’s easy to forget just how good an actor Dillon is, and he both recounts his tale to Verge, and acts like a psychopath with such a lack of enthusiasm that is comes across as very real. The other cast are fantastic in their roles too, a highlight being Thurman playing quite possibly one of the most horrible human beings ever put to film, which in a movie about a serial killer is saying something, and is an interesting juxtaposition on character.

It’s a long film, but there is always something happening, and it is constantly saying something about the psychology of killers, and also how societal norms have changed the regular human being into a lamb, and there are very few tigers.

Score: ****

Format: This film was reviewed with the Australian Umbrella Entertainment release, which is apparently the complete and uncut version, which runs at about 2 hours and 32 minutes and is presented in a fines 2.35:1 image with a deep Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track.

Score: ****

Extras: Nothing.

Score: 0

WISIA: Whilst this film is both interesting and provocative, I am not sure if it does hold itself up to repeat watches.

Ghostland aka Incident In A Ghostland (2018)

One from the to watch pile…

Ghostland aka Incident in a Ghostland (2018)

Film: Many film critics and academics have discussed the important virtues of films that James Quandt described as ‘the New French Extremity’. Hell, it’s such an important part of film history that the Faculty of Horror’s Alexandra West wrote a whole damned BOOK about it (titled Films of the New French Extremity, available now). The key things, according to Wikipedia (who were quoting an article from MUBI), that define the New French Extremity are a ‘crossover between sexual decadence, bestial violence and troubling psychosis’.

Now, I am no academic, and I write this site because I just love horror and cult and sci-fi movies, but to me that also sounds like a description of ‘torture porn’. I guess because it’s French it becomes artistic rather than lowbrow (you can tell it’s lowbrow as it doesn’t deserve capital letters).

Anyway, this film was made by a person who is associated with this movement (New French Extremity, not torture porn), Pascal Laugier, writer and director of the award winning, and critically-acclaimed film Martyrs, a film which he claimed was written whilst under the influence of clinical depression, and by the torture porn poster boy Hostel: in some hands that mix might be a recipe for destruction, but in this filmmakers hands it was an exercise in the futility of existence.

This film, Ghostland, has thematical similarities to Martyrs, but honestly, effected me far more.

Pauline (Mylène Farmer) and her daughters Beth (Emilia Jones), a studious, wannabe-writer who resides mostly in a fantasy world, and Vera (Taylor Hickson), an obstreperous teen-bitch, are travelling to an old house they have inherited from Pauline’s cousin’s step-sister. On the way they encounter a strange candy truck, driven by an odd woman (Kevin Power) who waves and then drives off, only to return to observe them when they stop at a truck stop for directions.

The continue on their way to the house and find that their relative was an odd person who had a dramatically large collection of dolls and other bizarre curios all through her two-story house. Something else that becomes a surprise to them is the Candy Truck Woman turning up again, but this time with a large, brutish accomplice (Rob Archer).

It would appear that these two travel around, collecting victims for the larger of the two to rape and beat, but this man has a particular kink which is the person he is raping has to lie perfectly still like a doll. Beth has just started her first-ever period, and after sniffing her, the brute decide to start with Vera instead, and drags her off, kicking and screaming.

Beth attempts an escape and witnesses her mother, previously incapacitated by the men, attack and kill the Candy Truck Woman, before turning her attentions to the large man, and after a fight, dispatches him also.

We then flash forward several years and Beth (now played by Crystal Reed) has a perfect life. She is a successful author, happily married to a wonderful man and has a young son. After a stint on a TV show promoting her latest book, she is contacted by Vera (now played by Anastasia Phillips) who is screaming and in a panic.

Beth returns to the house and finds that Vera is now completely mad, and lives in the basement where her rape occurred, and her mother is dealing with it as best she can. She decides to stay for a few days, but the longer she stays, something seems to be fracturing her psyche… or maybe her memory… and all is definitely NOT what it seems!

There was basically nothing to dislike about this film. Laugier has directed it perfectly and gotten performances from everyone, no matter how small their role, that really creates tension and once it really kicks off, doesn’t let up. At no point during this film did I look at the time or become distracted, which is unusual for me, and the sense of dread throughout the film is SO pervasive that my stomach felt like I had a rock sitting in the bottom of it.

Please, see this film but make sure you have a cartoon or some ice cream to eat after it: you’ll need it.

One small note: the cover of the Australian release of this film clearly has the title ‘Ghostland’ emblazoned on the front, whilst the actual movie itself presents us with the alternate title ‘Incident In A Ghostland’. Weirdly, IMDB has this listed as ‘Ghostland’ but the cover used to represent the film has the other title. Subsequently, I have no idea what this film is called, exactly.

Score: ****1/2

Format: This film was reviewed using the Australia release, marked as region B on the back cover. Both the 2.40:1 image and the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 audio were of a high quality.

Score: *****

Extras: Nothing

Score: 0

WISIA: It’s an enormously good film, and I enjoyed it thoroughly, but I am not sure I could watch it again.

Copycat (1995) Review

One from the re watch pile…
Copycat (1995)

The Australian DVD of Copycat


Film: There was a period in the 90s where it felt like horror was maybe-not dead, but starting to smell a little. Even Fangoria was sticking blockbuster films on its covers! In the post Silence of the Lambs world though, a few thrillers popped out that surprised me with their level of entertainment, this, Copycat, being one of them.

(Yes, the irony of after a film like Silence of the Lambs that a similar film called Copycat would be released is not lost on me)

Copycat: Sigourney Weaver


Copycat tells of agoraphobic abnormal psychologist, who specialises in serial killers, Dr Helen Hudson (Sigourney Weaver) who has become this way due to being captured and tortured by a killer named Daryll Lee Cullum (Harry Connick Jr.) who was apprehended soon afterwards.

Thirteen months later a new serial killer has started a reign of terror in town, and investigating officers Monahan (Holly Hunter) and Goetz (Dermot Mulroney) are stumped, but when Helen starts calling them offering them advice, she ends up involved… but perhaps she was already involved… perhaps the killer is working on her involvement, and maybe it involves Cullum…


Now it’s not the greatest thriller in the world, and the technology in it is laughably dated, and not yet kitsch enough to be cool, but solid performances by the leads, particularly Hunter and Weaver, both of whom I been a fan of for years. There are some other actors who pop up in this as well who add to the acting quality of the film: Terror at the Opera’s William McNamara, The Punisher’s Will Patton and Pollock’s John Rothman.

Interestingly though I am drawn to it, and it remains a film that I return to quite regularly, even though it’s not so great. I think it’s because it is easy to watch, and the story, whilst a little generic, does have a few surprises that drive the female leads on, though the motivation of Hunter’s character is more alluded to than confirmed. 
Maybe that’s when the appeal lies, in the fact that it’s like comfort food: easy to consume but not necessarily a proper meal.

Score: **1/2

Menu screen for the DVD of Copycat


Format: This film was reviewed on an (admittedly) older Australian, region 4 DVD version of the film which runs for just shy of 1 hour and 59 minutes. The video, present in 2.35:1, was of a below average quality but I imagine the age of the DVD may have something to do with that. The audio was presented in a functional Dolby 2.0.

Score: ***1/3

Extras: Only a few extras on this disc. The first is a ‘cat and crew’ text piece that looks like you are able to see the credits of a bunch of cast and crew, but when you go to select them, only Weaver, Hunter, Connick Jr. and Amiel are available! It seems weird to me to list everyone, especially when you consider Mulroney, McNamara, Rothman and Patton’s many and varied careers!!

There is also a commentary by Amiel that is accessible by the ‘languages’ option on the menu. It’s a fascinating commentary that explores filmmaking and serial killers, and really explores how important the score is to a successfully creating mood and tension.

Score: **

WISIA: I actually really like this movie, even though the story is little more than an extended episode of a police procedural TV show, and not necessarily a great episode either. I think it’s due to the quality of performance by all the actors in it. Whatever it is, I do seem to watch it once a year.

Copycat: Harry Connick Jr. as Callum and a future unfortunate cop