Tropic Sprockets / The Promised Land

By Ian Brockway

Brace yourself for “The Promised Land,” director Nicojai Arcel’s gritty historical drama based on the struggle of Captain Ludvig Kahlen of Denmark in the 1700s. This slow burn film has all the apprehension of an epic Western. Existential and gutsy, it has enough gore for a Grand Guignol torture tale or a British Hammer production from the 1970s.

Though the tension builds in increments, the last third reaches operatic heights evolving into a crescendo of revenge and a battle of wills.

Captain Kahlen (Mads Mikkelsen) is retired from the German Army and obtains a note from the Royal Danish Court to develop a tract of land, hoping to meet the King and secure a title of nobility. The officials are incredulous, wondering why the captain would be interested in a barren heath. Nothing has been known to ever grow in the location. The captain pleads and the court humors him along, reasoning that it does not matter whether he succeeds or not. Kahlen is up against it, having no workers and little hope for success, but he is grim and determined.

Kahlen’s plans do not sit well with the wealthy and egotistical Schinkel (Simon Bennebjerg) a local magistrate who believes the land on the Jutland moorland is his to do with as he pleases. Feeling at once at a stalemate, Schinkel proposes to offer the land to Kahlen in return for 50% of his crop earnings. The captain refuses, insisting he will retain the land on behalf of the king.

Schinkel simmers.

Kahlen toils with backbreaking work. He hires the abused runaway servants Johannes (Morten Hee Andersen) and Anna Barbara (Amanda Collin) who was raped by Schinkel. The captain also takes in a homeless child (Melina Hagberg) who others see as a witch.

Schinkel feels deeply undermined and begins to taunt Kahlen. This gets the attention of Edel Helene (Kristine Kujath Thorp), and she develops affection for the captain.

Schinkel becomes jealous and enraged.

A pathological game of one upmanship slowly evolves into a gore fest yet it never for one moment feels gratuitous or out of place. It is compelling, emotive, and absolutely authentic.

Mads Mikkelsen turns in another fine performance, but Simon Bennebjerg will be the man you love to hate with all of the Gothic horror. His utter disrespect for human feeling rivals any Roman Emperor.

Melina Hagberg as the irreverent child full of survival provides a genuine thrill and she almost singlehandedly steals the film.

This film builds with increasing energy on par with Clint Eastwood’s “The Unforgiven” (1992) and the pulp finale will stop your heart.

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