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DIRECTED by:                           Film Pulse Score: 5/10

Is there such thing as a happy family living together? Henry Barrial’s The House that Jack Built may make you think twice about that answer. After 20 years of developing a screenplay by the deceased filmmaker Joseph Vasquez (Hangin With the Homeboys), this tale of a working-class drug dealer with starry-eyed notions about how to bring a family together finally made it to the big screen at the LA Film Festival.

The House that Jack Built is fairly standard as far as street-crime melodramas go. Family man Jack (E. J. Bonilla) holds tight to memories of his blissful childhood, and hopes to recreate that happiness by paying for his entire family to live together in one apartment. Unbeknownst to his family, Jack’s money comes from drug deals and, unbeknownst to Jack, forcing the family to live together is actually causing them to drift apart. Jack’s mother (Saundra Santiago) wants to divorce his alcoholic father (John Herrera), Jack’s brother Richie (Leo Minaya) is next in line for a divorce with his unfaithful wife Rosa (Flor De Liz Perez), and Jack’s refusal to accept his sister Nadia’s (Rosal Colon) homosexuality turns her into his worst enemy. As the family drama escalates, Jack finds himself tangled in a turf war with a dangerous dealer named Chino (Fidel Vicioso), who insists that the conflict that can only be settled with a sacrifice.

The House That Jack Built premiered at LAFF, along with appearances by the cast and crew, and was featured as one of the main contenders in the LAFF Narrative Competition. While the story itself felt predictable and a bit too heavy-handed at times, heartfelt performances and on-location shooting in the Bronx gave this film a sense of realism that steered the story away from feeling too cliché. As the film progresses, the subplot intended for comic relief becomes to weak to alleviate the mounting tension of the main plot, making the drama feel a bit relentless. It was, however, refreshing to see a cast of nearly all Caribbean-Latino actors and an honest, beautifully captured portrayal New York’s Nuyorican neighborhoods.

The House That Jack Built may teeter on the line between compelling and exhausting, but it does deliver a story true to the works of Vasquez. Strong performances, masterful director, and beautifully nuanced cinematography set this film apart from others in the same genre, but at the end of the day, it still feels a bit like a soap opera.