Though good-natured and occasionally funny, Richard Bates, Jr.’s supernatural farce falls flat
Known for blending horror and comedy to varying success, writer/director Richard Bates, Jr. looks to find wit and wisdom through a coven of witches in King Knight, his latest collaboration with actor Matthew Gray Gubler. As the head of the coven, Thorn (Gubler), along with his high priestess partner Willow (Angela Sarafyan), give three couples advice, organize Beltane and other holidays, and collectively recognize the power of French star Juliette Binoche. Following the coven after Thorn’s secretive lacrosse-laden past is revealed, Bates’s film meanders along a path of hallucinations, low stakes interactions, and a high school reunion that neither satisfies nor energizes a project that outstays its initial, quirky welcome.
Surrounded by solid mainstays in the sitcom and comedy scene, Gubler and Sarafyan head up this slight farce about a group of outsiders who don’t think of themselves as too weird, too unpopular, or too absurd. The setup provides for more laughs than the payoff, as each of these couples interconnect during the first act of the film, a beginning that promises more than Bates can give.
Featuring familiar faces like New Girl’s Nelson Franklin and 21 Jump Street’s Johnny Pemberton, along with a cameo voiceover from Aubrey Plaza as a pine cone, the comedy leans on the warmness of these performers and these friendships, hoping to win the audience over with kindness. There’s a central message of acceptance running through it, but beyond that, the meanings run dry, creating 81 minutes of a spoof that has little sticking power.
Bates tries to infuse style into King Knight, using a psychedelic animation sequence to break up the oddball, yet monotonous nature of witchhood. Any attempt at satire lands with an awkward thud, with the film feeling like a trite exercise in explaining the importance of being a little different, being yourself, and surrounding yourself with others that love you for who you truly are; all fine points to make that don’t necessarily result in a memorable movie.
Without his usual (body) horror, Bates’s newest falls flat, taking on the role of an SNL skit that executives attempted to turn into a feature length cash cow, a comparison more about the quality of the work than the independent, low-budget nature of the director’s work. A sword takes on too much significance, the dialogue rarely makes little sense, and the reunion acts as the supposed climax, though the event nor the characters ever actually reach that destination.
King Knight, instead of hoping to say something profound, offers a dated, bizarre view on sex and relationships. The leads fight about having a child, while another one of the coven’s couples struggle with the sensual nature of the marriage, having a kid anyways through a very different means of creation. For a film that bags on organized religion, openly accepting the Wiccan ideals of this coven, it trends towards disparate dialogue on the sexuality of the peripheral characters, using homosexuality as a talking point (and a fluid trait of one of its couples) without any meaningful depth. The film’s not nearly as open or accepting as it thinks it is.
Bates’s comedy lacks the spark, dare I say, magic, to be anything more than a misuse of time and potential. It wastes the likeability of Gruber, Sarafyan, and the rest of its cast on gags and storylines that don’t rise above the surface level of these witchy ideas. A slew of good actors can’t save dialogue that puts them into boxes and leaves them stranded there, unable to outgrow the initial “look at how weird, yet nice we are,” joke that Bates is making. Moments of laughter become sparser as the film trudges forward, and these characters don’t even seem that interested in what’s happening to their fearful leader. Witches, Gruber, and Bates have all seen better days.
King Knight is now available on VOD.