King Knight [Grimmfest Review]: Embrace Your Inner Weirdo
Like many fairy tales about witches, heroes and thwarting the evils of the world, King Knight begins with the opening of a story book. Yet, this is no traditional tale of magic and sorcery, this is a modern look at rebirth, renewal and acceptance. Oh, and tripping balls on ayahuasca whilst talking to a sentient pine cone voiced by Aubrey Plaza, because yes, this is ‘that type’ of movie.
Thorn (Matthew Gray Gubler) and Willow (Angela Sarafyan) are the high priest and priestess of their California based coven. Outside of this grand responsibility Willow is a nurse and Thorn runs an unsuccessful bird bath company, but within the coven they are the advice givers, the ones who bring their little rag-tag group together. Made up of three more couples their coven has a lot of its own problems to deal with. There’s Echo (Emily Chang) and Angus (Nelson Franklin), she’s a regular contributor to Popular Mechanics, and he is a successful brewer, but there seems to be some communication issues. Especially around the topic of ‘Women’s Rights’, which is both a constant debate between them, and the name of their dog. Next there’s Percival (Andy Milonakis) and Rowena (Kate Comer) who are posited as the odd couple of the group. He’s insecure, and she’s beautiful, and he doesn’t feel worthy of her, which could be even more of an issue when Rowena pronounces she is with child. Then lastly, there’s Desmond (Johnny Pemberton) and Neptune (Josh Fadem), a couple who seem unsure of each other’s true sexuality due to their past relationships. Luckily, their trusty leaders are always nearby to counsel them through and make sure these 21st Century witches all have a happy Beltane and live their best lives.
“It is an endearing journey of self discovery with enough absurdist elements to land perfectly with the right audience.”
Unfortunately, lurking in this suburban coven leader’s inbox is a web of deceit and lies. An email from Desert Dunes High School inviting Thorn to his reunion is about to shake both his wife’s trust in him and his place within his beloved witch’s circle. Willow finds the hidden email, and she is horrified to discover that her partner is the living embodiment of everyone who made her youth a nightmare. As the married couple discuss his deceit it becomes increasingly dramatic with Willow wondering if she even knows who her husband is. He was class president, prom king, voted most likely to succeed, and he played lacrosse! His full name, Thornton, might as well be Chad in her eyes, and she feels betrayed that her life partner is a lie.
Thorn is on the verge of excommunication, and must begin a ‘walk about’ to not only earn back the trust of his wife and coven, but also to remind himself of who he truly is. His journey to self discovery is one of introspection and dealing with the wounds of the past, mostly bestowed upon him by his traditional mother, played by Barbara Crampton. She may have dressed him like an all American boy on the outside, but he was yearning for more on the inside. Whilst Thorn journeys to Vegas to attend his reunion, the coven remain home and decide his fate.
King Knight is hilarious in its earnestness. If any single member of this ensemble cast dropped their over the top persona for even a second it would lose all impact and feel like a parody. The genuine energy from this group of actors is what makes the film so easy to fall into. It’s not making fun of other people, it’s simply having fun with its subject matter. There’s a respect for the characters and the coven’s actions that makes this a smart satire instead of a lazy joke.
The witty and sincere dialogue is accompanied by a kaleidoscope of visual montages. The coven partake in fairy wing frolics, power stick raves and ritualistic routines that look like a Woodstock promo video. The cacophony of colour in these sequences is beautiful and adds to the welcoming cult-like vibe the group consistently give off. These movement montages are capped during the climax of this quirky and heartfelt film. What have I always needed in my life but never knew I needed? A modern interpretive ballet style dance performance by all black wearing, chest tattoo having Matthew Gray Gubler. Intensified by the slow mo shots it’s safe to say that after witnessing this I may never be the same again.
Writer director Richard Bates Jr. has continued his theme of outcasts as leads and characters having to confront their pasts in surreal circumstances with his fifth feature film. This witchcraft based dark comedy, although not as Horror edged as some of his previous works, taps into modern coven life with an eccentric sense of humour. It is an endearing journey of self discovery with enough absurdist elements to land perfectly with the right audience. It’s a self actualisation satire, but one with a solid heart that applauds the outcast, even at their most ridiculous, and embraces the weirdness of its premise and characters with such adoration it’s nearly impossible not to be drawn to the on screen magic of what is bound to be a charming future cult film.