Gruesome “The House That Jack Built” Sends Cannes Audience Running For The Exits

Matt Dillon in “The House That Jack Built”

I consider myself a horror movie fan—much more so of a hardcore one in my earlier days. And there were several films that stick out in my mind as having this combination of realism and extreme violence that was “too much,” even for me. That sounds like grist for a list-type post (and god knows I need more of that low-hanging fruit), but I’ll use the 1986 film Henry: Portrait Of A Serial Killer by John McNaughton as one example.

I’d never say Henry: Portrait Of A Serial Killer was a bad film by any stretch of the imagination. And I’d never say it should be “banned,” either. But it was a hard movie to watch. 

Apparently another hard movie to watch is Lars von Trier’s latest, The House That Jack Built. Reportedly the film had such intense scenes of gore—including blowing the heads off of children with a shotgun and slicing off a breast—that Variety’s Ramin Setoodah counted more than 100 people walking out of its screening at the Cannes Film Festival.

Per Setoodah:

I’ve never seen anything like this at a film festival. More than 100 people have walked out of Lars von Trier’s ‘The House That Jack Built,’ which depicts the mutilation of women and children. “It’s disgusting,” one woman said on her way out.

Showbiz 411’s Roger Friedman was more succinct:

Walked out on LarsvonTrier . Vile movie. Should not have been made. Actors culpable

And Al Jazeera’s Charlie Angela noted:

I’ve just walked out of premiere at because seeing children being shot and killed is not art or entertainment

This all leads me to the question—which I don’t claim to have a definitive answer to, by the way—as to how much is “too much?” And is “too much” defined by the era the movie is shown in?

I mean…there were movies with extreme, mind-boggling violence in the 1970s and 80s. A great example is the 1988 The Blob remake—which did (spoilers) feature a particularly gruesome child death among other grotesque images.

But The House That Jack Built is being screened after the Parkland massacre, right? Brings to mind how a number of movies & TV shows were “toned down” in violence after Columbine. Hell, even Fangoria was toned down in violence after Columbine.

Will this word-of-mouth involving The House That Jack Built crush its chances at box-office gold? Or, given the digital streaming revolution, is it necessary for von Trier’s film to even hope for a big movie theater take? Isn’t there already a built-in audience for this type of extreme film?

The only thing that could really “take it down,” it seems to me, is public pressure against the studio to recut or keep it in the can. Which…these days, is not an unlikely thing that can happen.