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King Knight

Aimless, immature, and frustratingly amateurish, Richard Bates’ “King Knight” feels like it was made exclusively for those involved in it, with no regard for an audience’s patience or time. Why else would this farcical, quasi-dark comedy set in some heightened version of the real world have such an alienatingly slight sense of humor? You might crack a polite smile or two throughout the film’s elongated running time and unsightly visuals that hammer on a hardly revolutionary point: Be yourself, no matter how ridiculous or strange others might think you are. But you are more likely to turn the whole weird fest off before the film’s main plot kicks in.

The story goes something like this: A badass-looking but goodhearted leader of a witchy coven somewhere in California—with comical members all clad in monochromatic black-and-white—actually used to be as mainstream a dude as one can get in his younger days. Once, back in high school, he was crowned a prom king and even played competitive sports. Oh, the embarrassment. The question is, what will he do in the midst of the prying eyes of his clan and more importantly, non-conformist wife who obliviously lives amid all their mutual dark spells, sage burning and scented candles: face his past and attend his high-school reunion or continue to live his truth built on a lie?

Still with me? If yes, you will perhaps agree there is something endearingly funny in this unapologetically indie premise for a script that knows how to navigate it with some sharp humor and eccentric twists. But “King Knight” abandons all its thematic assets almost doggedly, and instead gives us a bunch of dull goth-wannabes exchanging aggressively unfunny dialogue for unwelcome amounts of time. Part of that banter even dares to namecheck Juliette Binoche repeatedly as part of a tasteless running joke.

In a pair of stiff performances, Matthew Gray Gubler and Angela Sarafyan awkwardly play the aforementioned characters, the birdbath seller Thorn and his hardcore counterculture wife Willow. They are surrounded by the likes of Kate Comer, Andy Milonakis, and Josh Fadem, introduced in whimsical, voice-over-heavy segments with title cards and fanciful medieval artwork that screams imitation Wes Anderson, but on a shoestring budget. The characters all share an emotionally-lacking sensibility, which is perhaps a commentary on the blasé and flaky California culture. But instead of building on their broad quirks and personalities, Bates Jr. just gives us individuals that come with a mind-numbing checklist of idiosyncrasies. Some romantic hardships experienced by the group—like the one a same-sex couple has been going through—admittedly infuses the film with some mild appeal. But the project’s overarching monotony still takes over in due course.

Amid a half-baked storyline involving mommy issues and a hallucinatory trip where the mythical wizard Merlin (Ray Wise) appears, we mostly follow Thorn as he makes his way towards Las Vegas (and the movie’s anticlimactic finale) for his much-dreaded reunion. Though I’m afraid hilarity doesn’t ensue once he gets there. Neither does an authentically sympathetic portrait of a subculture—in all honesty, “King Knight” feels closer to mockery mostly because of its over-earnest tone. Just watch an average episode of "South Park" featuring those Clamato juice and Hot Topic-obsessed goth kids, and you might have a more entertaining time. 

Now playing in theaters and available on digital platforms.

Tomris Laffly

Tomris Laffly is a freelance film writer and critic based in New York. A member of the New York Film Critics Circle (NYFCC), she regularly contributes to RogerEbert.com, Variety and Time Out New York, with bylines in Filmmaker Magazine, Film Journal International, Vulture, The Playlist and The Wrap, among other outlets.

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Film Credits

King Knight movie poster

King Knight (2022)

Rated NR

81 minutes

Cast

Matthew Gray Gubler as Thorn

Angela Sarafyan as Willow

Ronnie Gene Blevins as Grant

Shane Brady as Nicholas

Ray Wise as Merlin

Andy Milonakis as Percival

Emily Chang as Echo

Kate Comer as Rowena

Felisha Cooper as Kate

Barbara Crampton as Ruth

Josh Fadem as Neptune

Nelson Franklin as Angus

Callie E. Moos as Eudora

Johnny Pemberton as Desmond

Director

Writer

Cinematographer

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