‘Kingdom Exodus’ review: Lars von Trier returns to his old tricks, unleashing hell in a Danish hospital

The Kingdom Exodus begins with a joke, and for the next five hours, it never gets serious, not even for a second. That’s not what you might expect in the long-delayed finale of the made-for-TV horror series Lars von Trier, although it sure does make this fantastic return to haunted Rigshospitalet – that big brutal medical center in the heart of Copenhagen – so much fun.

For a full two minutes, Von Trier tricks us into believing that season three will look like a polished TV series of the kind you might find on HBO or Netflix (after all, the original series came out in 1994, a year before the Danish stunt revolution that was Dogme 95, and since then von Trier has returned to making dark illusions in a soaring fashion). We open to a close-up of a woman’s eye, perfectly lit and steadily framed, mirroring a TV screen on which Von Trier, a quarter-century younger, appears over the credits of the final episode of season two.

“How can they get around in such half-baked nonsense? This is not the end,” Karen (Bodil Jørgensen) denounces, pulling out her “Kingdom” DVD and heading to bed. Since then, the show has been returning to fans of the iodine-infused stylistic chaos they once embraced. (DP Manuel Alberto Claro, who did such elegant work on “Melancholia” and “Nymphomaniac,” tries to reconcile the show’s signature camcorder work.)

As it happens, Karen is not wrong: In the director’s comment on the DVD itself, von Trier and co-writer Nils Forsell admitted that they wrote themselves in a corner. “It might be a good thing there isn’t a 3 part,” they sneered. With that said, the couple always intended to end things, and here, 25 years after the second part, they’re back to committing mischief again. In the next five hours, there will be secret passages, ghostly apparitions, magic mysteries, provocations of questionable taste (including comments made about the area’s Nazi past), a near-death experience and what threatens to be a multidimensional event of annihilation.

After taking notes from the TV show she just watched, Karen appears at the hospital and immediately heads to the basement, where a giant Dane Ogier statue blocks her path. Remember, in the prologue that accompanies each episode, the hospital is built on the foundations of a haunted bleaching. It’s time for audiences to witness the cosmic consequences of that unfortunate past – which, in this case, means a deception by the demonic William Dafoe and the unforgettable sight of Odo Keir’s massive head slowly sinking into tears. These last shots are great, like something out of an Andrei Tarkovsky movie. There is no doubt that Kier (who is back again as a Little Brother mutant) has managed to perform the most surreal moment on this show.

Meanwhile, upstairs, most of the new hires of bureaucrats, onlookers, and blatantly unprofessional doctors are back to their old habit of holding silly staff meetings and getting each other on nerves. It’s the first day in the kingdom for Dr. Helmer (Michael Berbrandt), the neurotic son of Swedish neurosurgeon Stig Helmer (the late actor Ernst Hugo Yrigard), who turned a patient into a human veggie and spent hours analyzing his faeces. His colleagues start bullying him the moment he enters the door. To get around this problem, other Swedes organize on staff to start wreaking havoc in the hospital.

Like Järegård, “Kingdom” star Kirsten Rolfes — who played fan-favorite psychic Sigrid Drusse — passed away shortly after the conclusion of Part Two, which means “Exodus” needs new replacements for its two main characters. That’s where Karen comes in, as she makes steady progress on her mission of unlocking the gateway to the kingdom, while everyone else acts like the characters in this muddled workplace comedy.

It’s easy to realize today that the entire project was way ahead of its time, earning a license to be an outsider to “Twin Peaks,” while we’d expect British satirical films like “The Office” and “In the Loop” (and their US equivalent, “The Office” and “Veep”), where sloppy documentary footage of outrageously erratic behavior on the job provides vociferous vent to people who thought their real-world colleagues were unbearable. They probably don’t even have a nasty co-worker like Philip Naver (Nicolage Lee Cass), who threatens to cut off his eye with a spoon—and is actually following her—or Anna (Tova Novotny), whose nipples she rubs under to provoke a sexual harassment lawsuit.

Most of the time, “Exodus” is so chaotic that Von Trier and his cohorts seem to make it up as they go along. Perhaps they are, to an extent, but the unremarkable and often farcical comedy that draws on a quarter century of self-imposed creative discipline. What von Trier took away from the Dogme 95 experience was the challenge of navigating his way out of seemingly arbitrary logistical “hurdles”. Here, he not only has to give the audience an end, but he also has to stay at least somewhat consistent with the characters, circumstances, and aesthetic he established in the ’90s.

“The Kingdom Exodus” builds on what came before, bringing back players like Balder (Nicolas Bro) and Judith (Birgitte Raaberg), while “upgrading” the dishwasher duo – two characters with Down syndrome – who seemed to be the only ones who understood what It was going on as hell. Despite his quest for unpredictability, von Trier crams the mini-series with religious references and layered references to other scripts, such as Danse Macabre seen in silhouette on a hospital rooftop, lifted straight from Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal”, with all at the end- the symbolic times it conveys. In the end, the meta-stunt returned to blame von Trier for all this nonsense, although the director apparently doesn’t imagine himself playing God as Satan, with a sense of humor of course.


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