Lars Von Trier’s 2018 horror film, The House That Jack Built, follows the titular character portrayed by Matt Dillon as he details his crimes that share remarkable similarities to a real-life serial killer. While researching his role as Jack, Dillon utilized Ted Bundy as inspiration for the characterization of the film’s murderer. Bundy was the perfect influence for the character. Dillon’s performance as well as the crimes included in The House That Jack Built perfectly crystallize this certainty.
The film is a unique take on the serial killer sub-genre of horror, as Jack is an open book with nothing to hide. As Virgil (Bruno Ganz), referred to as Verge, details the nine circles of hell depicted in Dante Alighieri’s 14th century divine comedy, Dante’s Inferno, Jack’s crimes are representative of each layer. The further he goes in detail, the further into the inferno the characters go. Dante is arguably the architect of the modern concept of hell and its punishments, while Jack is an architect of his own murderous design.
In order, the circles of hell include limbo, lust, gluttony, avarice (greed), wrath, heresy, violence, fraud, and treachery. Satan and Judas reside in the ninth circle as they are known for treacherous acts. By the end of the film, Jack joins the infamous traitors. While Bundy committed his crimes during the 1970s, he was regarded as the human incarnation of evil, lacking empathy and remorse. This equation alone makes Bundy and Jack two of a kind, the epitome of malevolence, but there is so much more to their similarities.
How Ted Bundy Inspired Matt Dillon’s Jack
Ted Bundy was known for his charm and good looks, which caused him to grow a large following of young women who fought for his innocence despite the certainty of his guilt. Taking inspiration from the infamous killer, Dillon utilized the sociopath diagnosis of Bundy to craft a character who outwardly presented the archetypes of the psychopathology. Jack is also in various relationships with women who are entirely unaware of his crimes, as was Bundy during the beginning of his murder spree in the Pacific Northwest. Both of the killers use their charisma to manipulate women into relationships or situations where they are alone with him so he can take advantage in one way or another.
Once Bundy was alone with his victims, he would kill them in some of the most nefarious ways. Similarly, Jack details several incidents in the movie where he gets women alone in order to hunt them for sport or brutally kill them in any way he desires. While Bundy’s official death toll is thirty, it is presumed by law enforcement officials that he killed far more people. According to the movie, Jack has killed over sixty people, which can be attributed to the presumed number of Bundy’s true body count. In essence, these two killers are nearly reflections of one another.
When Lars von Trier wrote the script, it is difficult to deduce whether he utilized Bundy as an inspiration for the character as well, or if it was artistic license on the actor's part. Regardless, Dillon saw the similarities and researched every detail, facial expression, and subtle mannerism of the infamous serial killer to bring Jack to life. The House That Jack Built cleverly examines the rise of a serial killer and gives a unique look inside Jack's mind; it sets itself apart from similar offerings by creating a fictional character that is still steeped in eerie reality. Dillion's performance and dedication to his craft by smartly connecting the dots between Jack and Ted Bundy only added to the horrors of von Trier's film.