For the full effect, you need to visualize the space in Cannes. You’ve probably seen those famous, red-carpeted steps where the movie stars ascend. They pause just briefly to be photographed by the paparazzi who surge five or six deep against the barriers designed to keep them at bay. Beyond the steps, all doors lead into the Auditorium Louis Lumiére.

Holding the third of a mysterious color-coded, three-tiered press pass, I’m afforded entry into the Lumiére at the last minute on a space-available basis. This occurs only after movie stars; their staff, friends, and families; actors on the verge of becoming movie stars; their staff, friends, and families; all manner of filmmakers, directors and production people; important townspeople holding invitational tickets; journalists with tier one credentials; and journalists with tier two credentials. Then finally, my group of tier three pass holders is allowed to enter. I line up hours early to be at the front of my group.

Suddenly, after watching the masses enter before me, my time has come. The main auditorium on this night has already filled, so my group is diverted to the balcony. I’ve come to appreciate the bird’s eye view from this vantage point. The cavernous Lumiére has 2,309 seats, and on this night, I will have one of them. 

Given the design of the theatre, no bad seats exist anywhere. Since the lights are beginning to dim, we move fast and without ceremony. You simply file in and take the next available seat on whatever row if filling. I pay attention to the uniformed attendant who might slap me silly if I dare to question my position. I end up in the middle of a very, very long line of seats. I look to my left. I look to the right, confirming my entrapment. If anybody shouts “fire,” I’m doomed.

Within seconds, the dimming lights are extinguished and the film starts. This is the world premier of “The House that Jack Built.” Screenwriter and director Lars von Trier has come to be known exclusively for work in the horror genre. Being faint of heart, I generally avoid horror movies, but this one has earned lots of competition buzz. I settle in. How bad can it be?

Jack (Matt Dillon) seems like a nice enough guy, so when a woman of independent means (Uma Thurman) has a flat on a deserted road, she’s happy that he stops to help. She’s so happy that she harangues him into taking her to a nearby gas station to have her jack repaired. Jumping into the van of a total stranger doesn’t bother her. She’s soon making jokes about him being a serial killer.

And he is. From the moment he bashes her face with the offending jack to the final ending, one monstrously violent scene after another takes the audience on a bloody romp. Leaving little to the imagination, Jack’s appetite for killing goes unchecked, and he’s not exclusive. Old people, young people, men, women, and children of every color and social class are bludgeoned, hacked, mangled, stabbed, shot, gouged, and/or strangled.

Some of the accounts of the screening describe more than a hundred people leaving the theatre. I didn’t see them because my eyes were closed.

Come fall, “The House that Jack Built” will be released in the U.S.

Current rating not available.

Marilyn Robitaille writes film reviews for the Stephenville Empire-Tribune and Glen Rose Reporter.