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Lars von Trier's disturbing horror series inspired by 'Twin Peaks'


Sowing the seeds for the interest in ‘true crime’ stories that today infest themselves in modern media, Twin Peaks created by experimental pioneer David Lynch created a wide web of content that enveloped viewers into a world they were not quite sure how to interpret. The show became a cultural phenomenon in the early 1990s with Lynch establishing a strong uncanny story that was just intriguing enough to have viewers come back week-on-week. Not only did it inspire audiences, but filmmakers were also taking note of the show’s provocative power, with Danish director Lars von Trier being heavily influenced by Twin Peaks in the making of his own horror series, The Kingdom (Riget).

“I watched Twin Peaks on TV and I was thrilled,” Lars von Trier commented in a behind the scenes documentary from The Kingdom, a Danish mini-series created by the director in 1994. Set in the neurosurgical ward of Copenhagen’s Rigshospitalet, nicknamed Riget, the surreal programme follows a number of hospital staff and patients as they encounter supernatural occurrences.

As von Trier himself explains, “The Kingdom is a ghost story set at the Kingdom Hospital spiced up a bit with a few soaplike elements. There are doctors and nurses who love each other, and a few minor disturbances on their way in some plaster falling off the wall. The hospital is becoming unravelled in some way or another”. 

Dark, haunting and genuinely disturbing, The Kingdom is also a compelling viewing experience that has long been highly rated amongst Lars von Trier’s illustrious filmography, including the films, Melancholia, Antichrist and Breaking the Waves

Born out of the directors own anxieties towards the practice of medicine, von Trier announced in the documentary, “My personal attitude to the medical profession or the world of medicine in general, is full of angst. It’s hard to explain what this angst derives from…The insecurity and the feeling of your life being in other people’s hands is very unpleasant for me”. 

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Though, much like the provocative films that Lars von Trier is better known for, the director alleges that much of the series is based on truth, stirring up debate about the existence of the supernatural. As von Trier asserts, “When we wrote the series we based it on true stories. Practically everything is based on events that we just rewrote a bit”. Adding to this, the Danish filmmaker also notes, “Ghosts, I believe in them. Or I hope for them, I should say”. 

In December 2020, it was announced that Lars von Trier would be filming a third and final series of the cult TV programme under the name, Riget Exodus, consisting of five episodes. Each of the original cast members is expected to return with the latest series, to follow a new character, Karen, in her search for unresolved questions relating to the hospital’s mystery. Mixing horror and humour, the final series of The Kingdom will provide much of the same insanity whilst (hopefully) providing something of an answer for two seasons of surrealism. 

Whilst Lars von Trier’s series is far more humble than David Lynch’s grand Twin Peaks with just eight episodes in total, it remains an essential piece of Danish cinema that would precede his monumental efforts in cinema. Enter into its dark, twisted mystery and you won’t be disappointed.