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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.
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 .
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.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:
“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)