A through line in Richard Bates Jr.‘s cinematic oeuvre so far is the survival of oddness in conventional surroundings. Whether it be the plucky progeny who marches to their own beat and then returns to their childhood home, or someone reconciling the fact they don’t subscribe to normalcy, the filmmaker is adept at making weirdos endearing and relatable.
The plot of Bate’s latest movie, King Knight, sounds more ominous than it really is. A modern coven’s high priest has a dark secret, and once it’s exposed to his life partner and the other members, he’s ostracized from the group. Before diving into that cryptic nugget the protagonist has been hiding all these years, you should be aware this is not a horror movie; it can barely be labeled a dark comedy either. The humor isn’t sterile, but even basic cable today is more risqué. Anyway, Matthew Gray Gubler‘s character, Thorn, doesn’t have skeletons in his closet. No, he has lacrosse sticks and preppy apparel. In his not-so-distant past, Thorn was — for some people, this might be considered horror — a total normie.
For the average person, the discovery of your partner being a conformist wouldn’t be all that detrimental. It’s expected because people grow and change all the time, or at least they should. For Willow (Angela Sarafyan) and the rest of the coven, though, this news is viscerally upsetting. Not to overlook their initial and hilarious reactions, they feel betrayed. The revelation especially comes as a shock to Willow, who is instantly reminded of all the people who made her formative years so hellish.
Where the movie risks losing you is Thorn’s expulsion even if it is more self-induced than not. After divulging his secret, Thorn is not so much kicked out of the group as he is shunned from it. Willow is more understanding after her original response and chastises their friends for being so judgmental. However, Thorn decides to go on a walkabout; a search for enlightenment and a quest for self-discovery. It’s ridiculous when you think about it, but that’s also why it’s so funny.
Bates has a modest go at free-spirited folks and their so-called open-mindedness. These coven characters are so upset by the idea of Thorn being a former jock and popular student, they don’t catch on to the irony of their exclusive behavior or obsession with image until later. The movie’s critique is never as nasty it could be with a different script and director; the quirky humor really keeps everything fairly light. It helps make forgiveness all the more attainable.
Going in, you believe these characters will be unbearable, but the writing and agreeable performances prevent that. The core message of being kind and non-judgmental is also overworked yet still appreciated in these trying times where living as your authentic self can attract a lot of negative and cynical responses. King Knight overall better fits in with Bates’ Suburban Gothic than it does Excision. While it may not leave a lasting mark, the movie ends on a high note and wins you over with its charms.
King Knight had its world premiere at Fantasia Fest 2021.