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Kingdom Hospital (2004)
Director: Craig R. Baxley

review by Alasdair Stuart

Adapted from Lars Von Trier's original TV mini-series, The Kingdom, this version is produced by Stephen King and occupies some very odd ground. It mixes horror with black comedy, surrealism, high fantasy and an element of King's own life in a way that is as frustrating as it is engrossing.

The story follows Peter Rickman (Jack Coleman), an artist who is run over and seriously injured whilst out for a run. He's visited by Antubis, an immense anteater who gets him help with the caveat of "I do you a solid, you do me a solid." Peter's taken to Kingdom Hospital where he discovers that all is very far from well and he has a role to play in a story which has been playing out for centuries. The hospital, it turns out, was built on the ruins of an old mill which was destroyed under very odd circumstances and Peter, Antubis and the staff are all caught up in the hospital's past as much as its present.
spooky visitors in Kingdom Hospital
  Nurse, the screens!
  - bedside manners in

One of Kingdom Hospital's strongest points is its atmosphere, perfectly capturing the slightly fuzzy, left of centre feel that all hospitals have, in particular during the night sequences. There's a real sense of dislocation and menace to much of the series, a feeling that something awful really is just around the corner. This is backed up by some stunning imagery, whether it's Mary the dead little girl appearing on security cameras, the almost art deco appearance of Peter's trips into the Old Kingdom or Antubis himself, one of the best CGI characters of recent years.

The cast also impress. Bruce Davison is fantastic as the monstrous Dr Stegman, a preening, fussing mess of neuroses who, like all King characters of this type, explodes spectacularly in the last couple of episodes. Ranged against him is Andrew McCarthy as Dr Hook, the series' protagonist and one of the most genuinely interesting characters that genre TV has seen in years.

Hook is calm, unflappable and pragmatic, and spends much of the first third of the series as the logical extension of the roles McCarthy played in his brat pack days. He's the handsome, kind, compassionate doctor - the George Clooney (from ER) analogue in a hospital full of misfits. However, later episodes reveal exactly how facile a comparison this is, with Hook becoming equal parts martyr and guardian angel for the hospital. He's a fascinating and very dark character and the series is worth watching for him alone.

However, there are problems here. The pacing is positively glacial, with much of each episode taken up with a recap of events we already know and have in turn be recapped at least once before. Similarly, a number of characters are introduced, notably Peter's psychopathic ward mate, who are given a tremendous amount of build up and ultimately amount to nothing. At times a great deal of patience is needed to get to the end of an episode but the series really does reward perseverance.

In short, Kingdom Hospital is atmospheric, blackly funny and uniquely paced. If you can adjust to the pace of the show, there's a lot to enjoy here.

Kingdom Hospital on DVD
Kingdom Hospital

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