Fantasia Film Festival 2021: King Knight

Written by Anna Harrison

55/100

The premise for King Knight brims with promise: Matthew Gray Gubler stars as Thorn, the leader of a modern-day witch coven in California, but when his “life partner,” Willow (Angela Sarafyan), unearths a secret from his past, the coven exiles Thorn and he is forced to reconcile with his past. It’s a premise that could go any which way—director Richard Bates Jr.’s background in horror might suggest one thing, but the actual result is one that doesn’t quite live up to its kooky setup. Still, not every movie has to achieve greatness, and King Knight provides an amiable enough diversion, even if it’s one that will be forgotten soon after watching.

The most pleasant and impressive thing about King Knight is the humanity with which it handles its characters: it’s a comedy, one which relies on the absurdity of its premise and absurdity of its self-serious witches, but Bates imbues his film with an effusive empathy, giving each of his characters hopes, dreams, and loves that the audience can relate to, even if they don’t participate in the Beltane fires. Thorn may talk about burning sage and spout mumbo jumbo with the utmost sincerity, but he also wants to have a baby with Willow. Various members of his coven feel awkward about their sexuality, about their cat’s name, about all manner of insecurities everyone grapples with.

Fantasia Film Festival 2021 

Thorn, despite the sage advice he dishes out to his coven (“I feel confident in saying that he is incredibly gay,” Thorn reassures a member), has his own doubts. While he wants a child, Willow rebuffs him; he also refuses to dance, even at the Beltane celebration, though everyone else careens wildly about him. The heaviest burden on Thorn’s shoulders, however, is the fact that he used to be his high school class president and was voted “Most Likely to Succeed,” like an absolute tool. When Thorn reveals this to his coven, however, what damns him to exile isn’t that he was once mainstream, it’s that he assumes everyone surrounding him is an unpopular loser, and that being popular is a stain on his resume. 

It’s a good subversion of the “not like other girls” shtick, one that shows Bates’ knack for elevating the humanity at the heart of his story, even if that story isn’t as gripping as you’d like. Following his exile, Thorn decides to go to his high school reunion and dance to show that he isn’t afraid to be himself, and that’s really it. There is a fun animated scene as Thorn trips in a bathroom, and his final dance sequence recalls Napoleon Dynamite. It’s all rather sweet, though only the film’s compassion makes it stand out at all; otherwise, it’s a rather rote tale without a hook to grab the audience. There is nothing wrong with King Knight, per se, there’s just nothing great about it, either. But sometimes there doesn’t have to be, and there are definitely worse ways to spend an afternoon.

King Knight Trailer

King Knight is playing at Fantasia Film Festival 2021.

You can listen to Anna’s interview with Richard Bates Jr. here, and you can follow more of Anna’s work on LetterboxdTwitterInstagram, and her website.

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