Do you ever look back at who you were in high school and cringe at how you dressed, how you spoke, and how you acted? Do you feel like you’re overcompensating in the present to make up for how you were in the past? As King Knight proves, our past will eventually catch up to us and no amount of tattoos or black magick rituals can keep it from bubbling to the surface. The pagan comedy is the fifth feature for Richard Bates Jr., who also wrote and directed the horror-comedies Suburban Gothic and Tone-Deaf. It stars Matthew Gray Gubler (Criminal Minds) in his fourth collaboration with Bates, along with a diverse ensemble cast including Andy Milonakis (Waiting…), Johnny Pemberton (Son of Zorn), Emily Chang (The VampireDiaries), Nelson Franklin (Veep), and many, many more.

Thorn (Matthew Gray Gubler) is a self-described witch, living in a somewhat secluded community in California with his wife Willow (Angela Sarafyan, HBO’s Westworld). They act as the High Priest and Priestess of a coven made up of three other couples, who are constantly coming to Thorn with their relationship problems. Their fellow Wiccans are progressive to a fault and often squabble over petty issues. Together, they celebrate Pagan holidays, changing from their usual black garbs into white robes and flower crowns, looking like background characters in Midsommar. Aside from the negative reviews on Thorn‘s online birdbath shop and the Catholic schoolboys burning bags of dog shit on his front porch, life is good.

But Thorn‘s perfect life comes crashing down when his wife goes through the trash folder of his email account and finds several emails inviting Thorn to his 20-year high school reunion. It’s revealed that Thorn was *gasp* popular in high school, and not the isolated goth kid he alluded to. What’s worse, he was on the lacrosse team and was voted class president, prom king and most likely to succeed. The rest of the coven feel so betrayed by this news, they collectively agree to banish Thorn from the community. Heartbroken, Thorn decides to make the trip back to his small Nevada town and confront his demons once and for all.


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“There are no horror elements per se, but much of the humor is geared towards fans of the occult.”

 

The stakes in King Knight aren’t nearly as high compared to the rest of Bates’ films, but the fact that the characters are freaking out over something as inconsequential as a high school reunion adds to the comedy. Some of the best moments are when all eight members of the coven are bickering over Thorn‘s not-so-dark past. There are no horror elements per se, but much of the humor is geared towards fans of the occult. But if you need more convincing, keep your eyes open for horror queen Barbara Crampton starring in a rare non-horror role as Thorn‘s overly judgmental Christian mother.

Things go off the rails a bit when Thorn accidentally ingests ayahuasca and goes on a wild drug trip of self-discovery. The hallucination sequence uses kaleidoscope effects and a wonderfully colorful bit of animation as Thorn‘s astral projection explores the edges of the universe and his inner self. Ray Wise (Twin Peaks) makes a brief cameo as Merlin the Wizard, offering Thorn some sage advice in his journey of self-discovery, and Aubrey Plaza (An Evening With Beverly Luff Linn) and electropop artist Alice Glass lend their voices as an inanimate pinecone and rock.

 

King Knight has the premise of a Judd Apatow movie with the quirky charm of Wes Anderson.”

 

From the very beginning, we get a sense that Thorn is a well-rounded individual. He makes an effort to uplift and support the people in his commune. Although he’s embarrassed of the person he once was, he demonstrates that he has grown as a person over the years, but especially during those endless hours he was tripping balls in the forest. The message is, people can change for the better and it’s important to be true to yourself, no matter who you were in high school. Don’t let that Satanic goat head tattoo on his chest fool you, Matthew Gray Gubler portrays Thorn as an overall positive person who, like many of his characters in the past, has the occasional awkward moment.

King Knight has the premise of a Judd Apatow movie with the quirky charm of Wes Anderson. The character introduction in the opening sequence is done through picture frames, and each section of the movie is presented with a Tarot card. The dialogue often satirizes common phrases repeated in the politically correct, self-improvement sphere. There were a few pop culture jokes that went over my head, but I still found myself laughing out loud several times. At 78 minutes, it feels a bit too short. With such a big and talented cast, I felt some characters were underutilized and some of their arcs were never fully resolved. Still, if you’re looking for a silly movie where the humor isn’t too malicious, then King Knight is the way to go. Great horned god be praised!

 

Richard Bates Jr.’s King Knight celebrated its World Premiere at the 2021 Fantasia International Film Festival. Click HERE to follow all of our festival coverage, and be sure to let us know if you’re embarrassed of who you were in high school over on Twitter, in the official Nightmare on Film Street Subreddit, and on Facebook in the Horror Movie Fiend Club!