Thursday, October 28, 2010

31 Days Of Horror Day 28: The Unseen 48: The Kingdom

(Note this pertains only to the first season of The Kingdom)

Why’d I Buy It?: Picked It Up at the Hollywood Video is burning down sale.

Why Haven’t I Watched It?: Let me put this as delicately as I can. Lars Von Trier is considered to be one of the most important cinematic voices working today. And I more or less think he’s full of shit. (Mostly)

My problem with Von Trier, is simply I have not seen a single frame of a single one of his films in which I did not believe that he was just fucking with me. I may think that Michael Haneke makes glorified Skinner Boxes instead of films, but I believe he at least is upfront about the terms of his experimentation.

Von Trier on the other hand never makes films that are about what they are about. Dogville isn’t really about American hypocracy. It’s about Von Trier getting to gang rape one of the most famous women in the world. Dancer In The Dark is about Von Trier getting to torment another, not the story at hand. Some find the closing shots of Breaking The Waves to be among the most transcendant in cinema. I see it as little more then a giant floating middle finger pointed right at the audience.

Whether this failure is Von Trier’s as a director or mine as a viewer, I’ll leave as an open question. The point is I get very little to nil out of Von Trier’s films and feel I could live a full and happy life without ever seeing another one. So I don’t exactly go out of my way to watch them. Particularly when my first exposure to the material is the well meaning, ahead of its time, and completely disastrous Kingdom Hospital. A show that featured a wise cracking Anteater who was also the lord of the dead.

How Was It?:

Grr… It was actually pretty good.

Yes, though I can’t say it’s changed my opinion towards Von Trier as a whole, there’s no denying that The Kingdom is a seriously creepy, seriously strange, and seriously affective piece of horror filmmaking.

With it’s eccentric cast, bizarre subplots, and absurd perpendicular sense of humor, The Kingdom resembles Twin Peaks more then the full on horror film I expected.

Many of Von Trier’s best scenes involve nothing supernatural at all. Like the part in episode one where the Head of the hospital, joining a secret society, is solemnly made to swear to be an enemy of the occult and a servant of reason, before participating in a ritual so arcane, so sublimely silly, that it almost beggars description.

It gets as much mileage from subplots involving office politics (Operation Morning Air) severed heads and diseased livers, as it does from the ghost ambulance that pulls up to it’s door’s every night.

Some of the old Von Trier Bullshit does creep up. Particularly in a down syndrome greek chorus/kitchen staff, who are literally magic and also omniscient. Luckily these are cases are few and far between.

Of course when The Kingdom does want to scare you, it comes prepared. And it’s that quality, the ability to put away his subplots and sick games, and face his subject head on, if only for a few scenes, that I find so lacking in the rest of his work. And that makes The Kingdom such an unforgettable ride.

That Von Trier. He ever finds something that engages him, he might make one heck of a film someday.


Rob said...

Oh good God, I love The Kingdom! And you're right about Von Trier-I've tried to see what everyone else does in his work but I JUST DON'T GET IT!
But The Kingdom...Just that irascible old Dr who hates Denmark and wants to get back to Sweden is hilarious and the orderlies elderly mom who discusses his pornography with him(!?) and the uh, "childbirth" scene, and the subtle spooky scenes (the girl's ghost roaming the hospital). I haven't seen it in years but want to again!
Question: I never saw the show Stephen King's The Kingdom-was that an American remake of this?

Bryce Wilson said...

@ Rob: Yeah that "child" birth scene is... messy.

But as far as King's version yeah it is a remake. And it sticks surprisingly close to the source material. (The pretentious Doctor even yells "MAINE HICK SCUM" from the top of the hospital)

It's kind of interesting, and way ahead of it's time (It'd have probably done better in the age of Lost. ) It's just not very good. lol.

J.D. said...

I really dig THE KINGDOM as well. The creepy, unsettling atmosphere that permeates the running time is something else and the comparison to TWIN PEAKS is a good one - that's what drew me to it in the first place. It's a shame one of the key actors died as I believe Von Trier was going to make a third part.

Neil Fulwood said...

The great thing about 'The Kingdom' is that it has much of what von Trier's other work lacks - a sense of humour. I remember the Broadway cinema showing the whole of the first season theatrically in one massive six hour chunk (to the best of my recollection, there was only intermission). The auditorium was about half full and most of us were laughing quite frequently. When we weren't laughing, though, it was a different matter. That ghostly ambulance pulling up outside the main doors stayed with me for ages!

Elwood Jones said...

The Giant baby it could be said is the main difference between the original and the King version, which I doubted would have worked, but then I wouldn't really class as a remake, seeing how it's more an extension of themes and ideas, with a heavy amount of adaptation for an mainstream audience, aswell as personal venting of King's real life making it into the script.
I really need to hunt both down at some point and give them a fresh look.

Bryce Wilson said...

@ JD: Yeah I did not expect it to be so FUNNY. The only real shame about Kingdom Hospital kicking the bucket is that they were apparently going to incorporate the unused scripts of the third season.

@ Neil: That sounds like a hell of the screaming. And brr... that ghost ambulance isn't the craziest thing you see, but it just preys on you.

@ Elwood: I'd be interested to see what you think. I must admit I'm curious to rewatch Kingdom Hospital myself.

Maybe after season 2...

scott davidson said...

What an interesting blog, introduced by a thought-provoking photo. The unusual wall painting of the dwellings is also a strangely modern interpretation. Something like this hieroglyphic view of a park by Swiss painter Paul Klee,
The image can be seen at who can supply you with a canvas print of it.