Divisive director Richard Bates Jr. crafts a bizarre, campy comedy in indie feature King Knight. Known mostly for his work in the horror genre, before this film, I had only seen 2012’s Excision, of which I was not really the biggest fan. King Knight is a completely different beast, both stylistically and tonally. The playful, breezy vibe is evident from the very first frame. Opening with a pointed narration and a fairy tale alluding storybook, we are reminded of a simple truth: “even the most beautiful flowers grow in the biggest piles of shit.”
Thorn (Matthew Gray Gubler) is the not-evil High Priest of a modern-day coven. Willow (Angela Sarafyan) is his registered nurse partner in crime. Thorn just so happens to have a flourishing bird bath business to help keep them afloat. Their bond ties them together—and sex magic, of course. As a duo, they are practically therapists for the other members of their coven, offering guidance and insight into their plethora of problems. Thorn and Willow provide their friends with a platform to express themselves, and Pagan holidays like Beltane (where they celebrate “fire, fertility, and the onset of summer”) are enjoyed as a group.
Thorn’s world comes crashing down when Willow discovers an email inviting him to attend a high school reunion. In one of the most hilarious scenes, Willow quizzes him in her shock that he was a prom king voted “most likely to succeed.” She inquires whether Thorn played any sports, and when he replies “lacrosse”, Willow screams bloody murder. The jokes about Thorn’s past life are quite hilarious, including his lament about “being forced to wear Nautica t-shirts.” Once the others find out about his wholesome past, they banish Thorn from their circle with bold swiftness. Now, Thorn must embark on a walkabout—with a final destination in mind of his school reunion—despite having “weak ankles.”
The comedy is so weirdly specific in King Knight that it works. Each of the members in the coven has preposterously specific backstories and motivations. Desmond (Johnny Pemberton) and Neptune (Josh Fadem) share a moment that made me laugh out loud, where one of them proclaims “you’re so much more than a hole—you’re my whole world!” There’s a running gag between that couple where Neptune is convinced that Desmond is secretly straight. Percival (Andy Milonakis) fell in love with his girlfriend when he contracted a butt fungus, and another couple has a dog named Women’s Rights. This is not your typical coven!
If you are in the right mindset for a silly comedy that never takes itself too seriously, King Knight is perfectly executed, complete with a cast that is game for anything thrown their way. Ray Wise and Barbara Crampton popping up in small roles pepper in some genre street cred. Ayahuasca hallucinations feature Aubrey Plaza voicing a talking pinecone, and trippy visuals including a short 2D-animated segment exude personality. The school reunion is the centerpiece of King Knight, and it is a silly delight. Maybe I shall check out the rest of Richard Bates Jr.’s filmography after all…
King Knight screened at the 2021 Fantasia International Film Festival.