The Kingdom (1994 miniseries)

I have only heard of Lars Von Trier by reputation only, mainly in discussion to his most recent, and needless to say, incredibly controversial film, Antichrist. But this isn’t Antichrist. This is The Kingdom (original title Riget), a four-episode ghost story miniseries, set in a haunted Danish hospital.

Reading what I had about The Kingdom (mostly on the back of the VHS), I was expecting near-constant chills and thrills as the secrets of this old hospital were unraveled, with demons and werewolves walking the halls. Fairly early on, I had to abandon this preconceived notion. It is a ghost story, not a ghosts story. There is one spirit at the centre of the supernatural occurrences, with just two members of the whole cast of characters out seeking explanations. Everyone else is caught up in their own drama, with occasional interference by some paranormal phenomena.

Rather than enjoying The Kingdom for its suspense, my reason to continue watching shifted to the originality of the story, and the dark humour it uses to deal with its subject matter. While the ghost is off shifting ceiling tiles (ooooooooooooooooh), the head neurosurgeon (Stig Helmer) is launching hilarious, ragey diatribes against his co-workers; his underling is running a literal underground operation, recycling unused medical supplies, including a stiff drink made with pure alcohol; a student steals a corpse’s head to impress a girl; and an obsessed doctor implants himself with a cancerous organ so that he can gain ownership of it in order to complete his research. With so many entertaining narratives going on at once, the four-and-a-half hour run doesn’t seem anywhere near long enough. By the end, especially with the out-of-nowhere terrifying last scene, the only thing you want is more.

It’s pretty much impossible to not try and draw connections to other movies when talking about The Kingdom. On the video’s sleeve alone, it boasts quotes like “It’s like E.R. on acid” or “The best ghost story since The Shining.” So here’s my crack at it: “The Kingdom is like Scrubs meets Twin Peaks, with an added horror element that is three parts campfire story and one part Peter Jackson.” And you can stick that on whatever box cover you’d like.

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