FANTASIA FEST 2021: ‘King Knight’ Is a Lesson in Witchcraft and Hilarity

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King Knight

King Knight is a comedy film written and directed by Richard Bates Jr. Thorn (Matthew Gray Gubler) is the high priest of a modern Wiccan community in California alongside his wife Willow (Angela Sarafyan). While celebrating the Beltane festival, Thorn receives an email to his high school reunion, which greatly strains his relationship with the coven. He then goes on a quest to reconcile his past and his present, encountering visions of the great wizard Merlin (Ray Wise) and a talking pine cone and rock (Aubrey Plaza and Alice Glass, respectively.)

This marks the fourth film in which Bates and Gubler have worked together. Although I haven’t seen their previous efforts, it’s fairly clear that the two men have formed a rapport that extends to their work on the screen. Gubler has an excellent sense of comedic timing; this is most apparent during his interactions with Merlin, who he describes as his “Favorite f***ing wizard.” Wise especially deserves a shoutout for his performance in this film. He’s one of the funniest Merlins I’ve ever seen put to screen.

Another standout sequence features Thorn having a trippy dream sequence where his overbearing mother berates him, which leads to him waking up and screaming in a panic and then getting on the wrong side of a park ranger. Gubler proved he had comedic chops during his tenure on Criminal Minds, but he proves that he can carry a pure comedy affair here.

He isn’t alone in this endeavor, thanks to a wonderful supporting cast. Sarafyan embodies the perfect image of the “modern Wiccan” with her willowy physique, all-black clothing, and uttering all of her dialogue in a breathy whisper. The other members of Thorn and Willow’s coven all have their own unique quirks and problems, especially as they’ve formed couples within the coven hierarchy.

Percival (Andy Milonakis) and Rowena (Kate Comer) have a relationship that’s on the rocks due to his insecurities, Angus (Nelson Franklin) and Echo (Emily Chang) argue over their dog named “Women’s Rights,” and Desmond (Johnny Pemberton) thinks that his boyfriend Neptune (Josh Fadem) is cheating on him with a woman. Thorn and Willow help their friends solve their relationship issues and celebrate Beltane with them, which lends more weight to a scene where the coven decides to excommunicate Thorn due to his secret.

That secret is probably the part of the film that I’m most conflicted about, mainly because it concerns Thorn’s life in high school. It feels so silly and inconsequential, yet it’s treated with the utmost gravity. And it doesn’t make any sense. Yes, drama can often lead to comedy but said drama is usually rooted in feelings like “I’m growing older” or “I’m gonna die.” Take 50/50, for example. The film revolves around a man diagnosed with cancer, and the hilarious parts come from that. I feel that King Knight could definitely have benefitted from a stronger conflict, especially one tied to the theme of secrets and identity, as those themes play into the film’s script.

However, I can definitely tell that Bates studied all facets of the Wicca lifestyle, particularly their celebrations and rituals. Beltane is one of the four Gaelic festivals celebrated by Wiccans and involves dancing around a bonfire; the coven has to improvise with a candle since California is in a drought. Thorn and Willow burn sage to cleanse the various rooms in their house, and Thorn frequently inquires forgiveness from the Horned God that is worshipped in Wicca culture. Most films tend to work off various stereotypes when depicting Wicca; the fact that Bates put so much work into getting it right is commendable, and I hope other filmmakers look to his work as an example in the future.

King Knight wrings quite a bit of comedy out of its flimsy premise, thanks to a director who’s done his research on Wicca and a talented ensemble. If you want to learn more about the ways of Wicca or you’re looking for a laugh, I would highly suggest giving this a watch whenever it’s available.

King Knight is screening at the Fantasia International Film Festival 2021.

King Knight
  • 8/10
    Rating - 8/10
8/10

TL;DR

King Knight wrings quite a bit of comedy out of its flimsy premise, thanks to a director who’s done his research on Wicca and a talented ensemble. If you want to learn more about the ways of Wicca or you’re looking for a laugh, I would highly suggest giving this a watch whenever it’s available.