Tag Archives: Matthew Gray Gubler


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FEATURING: , Angela Sarafyan

PLOT: The leader of a Wicca coven falls into disgrace when a secret from his past is revealed.

Still from King Knight (2021)

COMMENTS: I don’t know if Richard Bates Jr.’s depiction of Wicca life is accurate or not, but many of the rituals (like the Beltane festival) seem believable, as do some of the practicalities involved (the coven’s priestess refuses to host a big bonfire this year because celebrants tend to overindulge: “I’m not trying to be a buzzkill, I just want to have one Beltane celebration that doesn’t involve a trip to the hospital.”) When King Knight is working, it’s because the script is making the Wiccans lives seem normal, despite their peculiar habits. Sometimes, the tone is mildly mocking: “Are you going to eat the placenta?” asks one congregant upon finding another is pregnant. “Obvi,” is the terse response. But there is no satirical bite here, and when it comes down to it the film is wholeheartedly on the side of these outsiders against the normies.

The thin conceit here is that the coven’s male leader, Thorn, harbors a guilty secret: he was popular in high school. While that fact would have made for a decent standalone joke, it’s hardly a satisfactory engine to drive an entire feature. It leads to unbelievable group dynamics: the coven’s excuse for shunning Thorn isn’t at all convincing, and their sudden about-face is just as difficult to swallow. Furthermore, I didn’t find most of the script very funny: the long discussion about “poo in the butt,” which becomes a sort of slogan, is tediously drawn out, getting less and less humorous as it drags on. But despite the clumsy setup, the movie soldiers on, and remains watchable because of the exotic milieu and its genuine fondness for its characters. The acting is solid TV-star quality, but there are welcome turns by icon , the voice of Aubrey Plaza, and a cameo by (which is similar to his appearance in Bates’ previous Tone-Deaf).

One thing that King Knight does really well is its long psychedelic scene, admirably achieved on an obviously low budget. It’s a masterclass for low-budget filmmakers in how hallucinatory effects can be conveyed with competent editing, lighting, and makeup, embellished with small bursts of simple but efficiently deployed optical tricks (Thorn’s third eye) and that always dependable standby, animation. Throw in a doppelganger, a talking pine cone, character development via phantasmal dialogue, and a smattering of Jungian symbolism, and you’ve got yourself a memorable trip.

Bates, who has been chugging away in semi-obscurity after failing to capitalize on the momentum gained from his 2012 debut cult hit, Excision, embeds a self-affirmation in the movie, delivered by no less personage than Merlin (“everyone’s favorite fucking wizard”). “The trick is, keep making your art, your way, without becoming bitter towards those who don’t appreciate it,” Merlin tells Thorn. “Remember, everyone has the right to their own opinion. So pick a song that speaks to you, throw caution to the wind, and most importantly, have fun.” A very simple message, but perhaps the most profound lesson in King Knight.


“Bates’ script is so weirdly, gut-bustingly hilarious, and offers such an unexpectedly genuine insight into what witch life is like, that you’ll probably find yourself thoroughly entertained… , Bates’ film isn’t just weird for weird’s sake; the poignance at its core is genuine and represents a clear effort by the filmmaker to change how society views those operating harmlessly on the fringes.”–Shaun Munro, Flickering Myth (contemporaneous)


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FEATURING: Alison Brie, Molly Shannon,

PLOT: A young woman with a family history of mental illness becomes paranoid that aliens are affecting her behavior.

Still from Horse Girl (2020)

COMMENTS: The title Horse Girl conjures up a specific archetype: not merely a girl who’s interested in horses (many girls are), but a girly-girl so relentlessly feminine that she makes people uncomfortable and ends up relating to steeds better than humans. Sarah (Brie) works at an arts and crafts shop selling beads and yarn, and won’t stop hanging out at the stable decorating Willow’s mane with her homemade lanyards, even though the owners hint that she’s not really welcome anymore. Other than a kind older lady at the shop (Shannon), she has no real friends, and spends most of her time watching the supernatural TV soap “Purgatory.” Her roommate tries setting her up with a friend-of-a-friend who’s on the rebound from a failed relationship. But Sarah’s social awkwardness takes a turn for the worse after she starts having dreams about a glowing ramp hanging over the ocean and a white-on-white room where she sees sleeping people whom she kind of recognizes…

What are we to think of a character who asks her ear nose and throat doctor, “Is there a test to see if I’m a clone?” Sarah has proto-schizophrenic fantasies about alien abductions and time travel, but the script never offers serious evidence that her theories are more than the ravings of a madwoman. Rather than suspecting and hoping (as we do with Donnie Darko) that there might be an alternate, plausible, high-stakes sci-fi explanation for our protagonist’s inner turmoil, we’re left watching a character’s sad decline into madness. Sarah’s total psychotic break happens abruptly, and the last act of the film is essentially a long hallucination broken up by a few conversations with her caseworker. The scenes are weird, yes, but we never get the psychological depth in her backstory that would make her delusions meaningful. We aren’t even explicitly told why she’s so attached to her horse—it’s left to us to put two and two together. Without a close emotional connection to Sarah, and without a narrative investment in her crazy clone theory, we can’t identify with her; we’re left to pity the poor horse girl rather than empathize with her. We watch Brie move through glowing white rooms; we watch her wrap herself (and her horse) in a homemade anti-alien suit. But it’s a depiction of madness rather than a submersion in madness. Despite its best efforts, Horse Girl keeps us on the outside of Sarah’s head, looking in.

Brie is very good in the role, socially stunted during the first half and dazed and terrified when her psychic dam breaks. Horse Girl is clearly a passion project for her (she co-wrote the script, basing Sarah on her own personal history, since Brie’s grandmother was a paranoid schizophrenic). This makes it all the more tragic that, despite her fervent portrayal, the story isn’t as gripping as it might have been.

Horse Girl comes with a tiny bit of controversy. The film has been accused of ripping off plot elements and story beats, and even lifting entire shots, from an earlier low-budget indie: 2017’s The God Inside My Ear. 366 Weird Movies is neutral on the question.

Horse Girl is currently a Netflix exclusive movie.


“This is a dark movie that gets weird for no good reason, and it feels like the project becomes a victim of writers (Baena and Alison Brie) who can’t figure out the ending to their story so they take the weird route.”–Louisa Moore,  Screen Zealots (festival screening)