Lars von Trier's Darkly Demented The House That Jack Built, Now Stateside

As with practically every new film by Lars von Trier, you can wait indefinitely for a US release, or just import The House That Jack Built today.  Yes, Artificial Eye's UK blu has landed on somebody's shores, and it looks promising: uncut, HD, and even some special features.  "Uncut" is important to clarify, because apparently IFC in the US have been putzing around, putting out both the original director's cut and an R-rated edit in theaters.  And considering they've only mentioned a subsequent digital release this summer, who knows what if anything, they plan to eventually release on disc?  So you suckers can wait.  Me, I've imported!  It's paid off pretty consistently in the past, so hopefully the lucky streak continues...

Update 3/3/19 - 8/30/20: Okay, we no longer have to import, as Shout Factory has put this out here in the States for 2020.  Do I still feel glad that I imported, or is it now cause for regret?  Find out below...
If you're wondering, no, I wouldn't classify this as a horror film; though it certainly has its effects-heavy gruesome moments that would satisfy a proper gore hound.  It's more of a dramatic character study.  The fact that we're following a serial killer rather than some sort of "final girl" does put this somewhat close in tone to films like Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer or Angst, though.  But then it diverges farther into topics like art and existentialism, which will bore anyone who thought the Halloween reboot was the best film of last year.  Still, I suppose, as with those other films or American Psycho, it's at least horror adjacent.

An interesting fact about this movie, is that it was originally planned and announced as, "an ensemble TV series... shot in English and due to air in 2016. It marks his first foray into long-form TV drama and is being developed for Danish public broadcaster DR."  Instead it's wound up as a feature film, structured very much like his previous film, Nymphomaniac.  It's a long story, told in the form of a conversation, where the protagonist is narrating his/ her experience to another character in distinct chapters, with digressions for lecture-style explanations of their philosophies, replete with mixed media including stock footage and animation.  An interesting thing about the series concept is that it wouldn't have an ending; just an indefinite saga (and you can feel some of that energy still in the film's writing).  But this film, oh boy, it has one of the most definitive endings possible.
Performance-wise, this is really a one-man show, and thankfully Matt Dillon is up to the challenge.  Yes, Uma Thurman gets high billing, and you may notice Jeremy Davies' name in the mix.  But really, everybody comes and goes rather quickly; Dillon is the only character we stay with, and he's in nearly every frame.  In an interview, Trier describes this film as being his most Hitchcockian yet, and I definitely agree with that.  But to me that's more of a con than he probably thought of it, as it means the characters are a bit more superficial, following a plot for the sake of the plot and even more for the sake of set pieces.  But it's a bit light on humanity and drama, instead watching the characters go through their paces as a lighter entertainment than anything that'll touch you or resonate.  I definitely wouldn't place this quite as highly as Trier's many masterpieces, like Dogville, Melancholia or Antichrist.  But I found it did hold together a little better than Nymphomaniac.
The House That Jack Built was released on blu in the UK in 2019 by Artificial Eye.  It's "the full uncensored version," as the giant red band across the cover attests, and has some nice special features.  It took us until 2020 to get it here in the US, but we finally have thanks to Shout Factory. Their release is a 2-disc set, but don't get too excited. It actually has fewer extras than AE, and is just using that second disc for the "theatrical cut." The theatrical cut is missing about 90 seconds of violent footage, so I don't know why anybody would want to bother with it; no other country is. But Shout has also included the Director's Cut (same version as everywhere else), so it's all academic.
1) 2019 AE UK BD; 2) 2020 SF US BD theatrical; 3) 2020 SF US BD uncensored.
The House That Jack Built is framed at a very wide 2.39:1, and looks quite attractive on AE's disc.  This is a digital film, so there's natural grain to search for (except for a few instances of vintage footage taken from various, older sources), but it's clearly a fine, HD image with detail and slim compression you could never get from a DVD.  You might be looking at some of the shots above and thinking: well, I see grain, particularly in that last shot.  But that's presumably an effect added in post... after all, Lars is certainly one to digitally tinker with his images in post.  Anyway, being a new, digital release, you'd also expect the transfers to be essentially the same, with just the minor variances in encoding, seeing as how they're taken from the same DCP source.  And Shout's mostly are... except for one thing.  Shout's are distinctly brighter.  On the plus side, this reveals a little more information in some shadowy areas, but on the minus side, it makes the colors look a little more washed.  I guess the edge goes ever so slightly to Shout, but it's subtle enough that it'll just come down to your personal taste for most viewers.

Artificial Eye gives the choice between a stereo mix in LPCM or a 5.1 in DTS-HD, and Shout does the same except theirs are both DTS-HD.  I was a little surprised and disappointed to see there were no subtitle options on AE's disc, however.  Shout provides optional English and Spanish subs, definitely taking the edge there.
The extras package isn't quite as loaded as we've come to expect from some of the awesome Zentropa releases of Trier's past, but what we get is rather satisfying.  Artificial Eye starts us off with a super brief "introduction" by Trier.  I added the quotation marks because it's not really an introduction to the film; it's the announcement he posted online three years ago that Jack was going to be his next film.  Pretty insignificant, but a nice touch to have it on here. And if you want significance, all you have to do is move onto the next feature, the interview, where they go head on at most of the questions you'll have immediately after watching the film.  Here, Trier sits down with an old friend (he's not credited, but they're clearly quite familiar with each other) who puts some very thoughtful, and sometimes rather tough, questions to Trier, for over half an hour.  For example, he doesn't just challenge Trier on the possible misogyny in the film, after Trier gives his answer, he continues to challenge and press him on it.  And then he goes into questioning the meaning and purposes of various film elements, and is able to dig a little deeper thanks to some inside information on Trier's inspirations and processes.

Then there's a featurette which is rather good... It features another interview with Trier that isn't afraid to challenge him, getting into his banning from Cannes and his controversial Nazi comment.  It also features a bit from Dillon and Thurman by way of footage of a press Q&A.  The only downside is that it sources a lot of its material from the first interview on this disc; so yes, we watch several question and answer clips twice, verbatim, in short succession.  But the featurette's still definitely worth it for all the new content.  Finally, there's the trailer.

Shout doesn't have AE's extras, except the intro and the trailer.  But they do have their own Trier interview, which covers most of the same ground.  So at the end of the day, there's no real winner or any reason to double-dip.  Either disc'll do.  Oh, and Shout also includes a couple extra teasers, some bonus trailers, and comes in a slipcover.
So ultimately, I'm still happy with my AE disc.  This film isn't quite one of Trier's best, but it's still very much worth your time and impressive in many ways.  And AE's blu is strong, including more special features than I was expecting.  If I was buying it for the first time now, yeah I'd get the Shout Factory, if only for the subtitles. But there's definitely no grounds for replacement or regrets. Most Trier fans should feel comfortable buying whichever disc is available in their region.

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