King Knight


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

King Knight
"If this hits the spot for you, you’ll probably be in stitches throughout, caught in a repetitive cycle of laughter – but if it doesn’t, you’ll be a bit lost." | Photo: Courtesy of Fantasia

Between environmental catastrophes, global pandemics and the still-present threat of nuclear armageddon, there’s no doubt that we live in a pretty dark time. It’s time when some people seek refuge in horror movies but others struggle to deal with the cynicism they see in the world around them. Richard Bates Jr has directed some pretty dark stuff in the past but felt that he needed a break, so with this film he has taken witchcraft, a subject generally associated with horror, and woven a light, sweet-natured comedy around it. It’s the story of a spiritual journey and personal growth, in which the magic derives from what happens when people reach out to one another.

Thorn (Matthew Gray Gubler) is a witch of the modern, Wiccan variety. He lives in a bright, spacious house with his partner Willow (Angela Sarafyan) and together they tend to the needs of their coven with the gentleness, patience and careful avoidance of judgement one associates with middle class English vicars in cosy BBC crime dramas. They host seasonal ceremonies and care for their community whilst holding down sensible day jobs. Thorn runs his own business, designing and selling bird baths. But he also has a secret. It’s one which, with his high school reunion pending and email about it arriving every day, he’s not going to be able to keep for much longer.

Do those whose choices attract prejudice also have a duty to examine their prejudices about mainstream lifestyles? Are low expectations of how others might behave towards them justified? These and similar questions trouble the coven members, who want to live in an ethical way but keep running into the real world. They’ve been solving problems for a long time by avoiding confrontation and tension has been building up, ready to blow. When Thorn’s secret is exposed he has no choice but to steal all his friend’s ayahuasca and leave embarking on a mythic quest in which he will seek help from a rock, a pine cone and his favourite wizard Merlin (Ray Wise, the only actor who has ever had to dial it down for that role), striving to make sense of his conflicted identity and summon up the courage to dance in front of his former classmates.

The weirdness of other people’s beliefs about them is often a source of amusement within alternative communities, but this is a joke that can only be stretched so far. Likewise the gentle teasing of followers of Wicca. King Knight relies a lot on culture clash comedy which doesn’t really work in a context where those cultures exist side by side and one of them is heavily populated by people raised in the other. There is a nice cameo from Barbara Crampton, however, who knows exactly how to pitch this kind of thing as Thorn’s disapproving mum. Its in-jokes are well suited to fans at the likes of Fantasia, where it enjoyed an early screening.

This kind of comedy is notoriously difficult and the less experienced actors find less room to manoeuvre within it. Their deadpan delivery is such that if this hits the spot for you, you’ll probably be in stitches throughout, caught in a repetitive cycle of laughter – but if it doesn’t, you’ll be a bit lost. Although Bates Jr plays games with the Hollywood formula, there’s little real emotional arc. Everybody is likely to find parts of it entertaining but ironically, as a film which deals in large part with relationship drama, it’s likely to lead to impassioned disagreements as some people try to explain why they loved it to partners and friends who found it entirely without point.

Reviewed on: 09 Aug 2021
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King Knight packshot
The high priest of a modern-day coven finds his life thrown into turmoil and ventures out on a journey of self-discovery.

Director: Richard Bates Jr

Writer: Richard Bates Jr

Starring: Aubrey Plaza, Matthew Gray Gubler, Angela Sarafyan, AnnaLynne McCord

Year: 2021

Runtime: 78 minutes

Country: US

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