Richard Bates Jr.’s latest, King Knight, was definitely not what I expected it to be, but by the time I was done watching it, I was amazed by the heartfelt journey on which I’d unknowingly embarked.
“Living the dream alongside his beautiful life partner Willow (Angela Sarafyan), the revered high priest of a modern Californian coven, Thorn (Matthew Gray Gubler) has it all… as well as a secret past that may or may not be as dark as his wardrobe. And much like the tides pursuing the moon, our past tends to follow us around. So, when his beloved uncovers said secret on the night of their Beltane celebrations, Thorn sets out on a soul-searching journey back to his hometown.”
Maybe this is a little inside baseball, but the screening room for Fantasia had King Knight tagged as “comedy” and “horror,” so I have to admit that I went into this expecting something more along the lines of Tucker & Dale Vs. Evil than the soul-seeking trip to reconcile one’s identity that I actually experienced. That said, I think I appreciated Bate’s movie more so for having my expectations thwarted.
Because I was watching King Knight and expecting things to go violently or gorily wrong, the fact that the film plays out as a sincere look at one man’s ability to reevaluate himself and the perceptions he has of others was a constant delight. The film is chockablock with character actors who know how to do bone-dry comedic work, playing this all as utterly deadpan as possible. It’s like the characters Tim Robinson plays on I Think You Should Leave—nobody here is dumb or cruel. They’re all just trying their best and at worst, are confused and upset when things don’t go as they seem they should.
The coven is just wonderful. I love it when characters are presented in a way which evokes no wink-wink, nudge-nudge, knowing glance style of “aren’t they wacky?” acknowledgment. Play your characters straight, let the audience make their judgments, and then allow your performance to change how they perceive you as the film goes on. I don’t want to be any more specific than that, because you’re definitely going to watch this movie and make some calls on the various members of Thorn’s coven, and they are going to be hardcore incorrect.
Seeing Barbara Crampton as Thorn’s mom – even if her appearance was limited to a Skype call, a brief hallucination, and a glimpse over a garden wall – made for another flip of expectations. Crampton’s characters in genre films are either kind and caring, or slyly manipulative, so it was something of a shock to see her get to be a true-blue, snappy, meanie. Her screentime may be brief, but it’s viciously effective to see the genre icon play against type.
I really enjoyed King Knight. I feel like I have to keep saying it, because it’s really hard to just go hard on the various aspects of it without feeling as though I’m trying to hard-sell you on something while doing the same thing for myself. No, it’s a fucking delightful movie. The humor is an adjunct to telling Thorn’s journey, so it’s not a chuckle fest, but neither is it cringe humor. You’re not laughing because things are awkward, but you’re definitely feeling for these characters and the travails which afflict them.
As Thorn, Gubler does a fantastic job of portraying a man with a secret who then has to reconcile who he was with who he thinks he is, and who he thinks he is with who he actually is. There are a lot of layers to unpack, but they peel away smoothly, as if the pages of a book were turning, as is alluded to in the opening sequence. It’s a different kind of reality, and I enjoyed existing in it for an hour and a half. It was fun getting to take a trip with Thorn while he took a trip of another sort, and it’s been a minute since I rooted for a character who wasn’t your standard hero. I wouldn’t mind going back, that’s for sure.