Fantasia 2021 – King Knight

Matthew Gray Gubler in King Knight

By Naomi Roper

Thorn (Matthew Gray Gubler, Criminal Minds) is the much revered high priest of his coven. He shares his life with his beautiful life partner Willow (Angela Sarafyn, WestWorld). On the eve of the Beltane celebrations, dark secrets from Thorn’s past threaten his happy existence sending him on a road trip to discover who he truly is…

King Knight is a cosy warm hug of a movie. Written & directed by the talented Richard Bates Jr it’s a marked departure from his usual fare. King Knight is a super adorable, hilariously funny film about found family, true love, self-acceptance and talking pine cones. 

The plot is deceptively simple. Thorn, it turns out, wasn’t quite as alternative in his youth (illustrated by pictures of Gubler himself as a child) as he’s allowed his coven to believe. When he’s found out he has to go on a psychedelic journey of self-discovery (aided by the accidental imbibing of Ayahuasca) to finally reconcile his past and present.

The cast is universally great all bringing their A-game & finding the absolute truth in tiny moments. Matthew Gray Gubler gets his best lead role in years as Thorn. King Knight heavily relies on his charm which is handy as he has it to spare. Gubler is a complete and total delight as Thorn. He has a very watchable screen presence and as Thorn, he’s goofy, sweet and openly vulnerable. Gubler also has killer comic timing (Bate’s script contains some excellent dry one-liners and I could have watched Gubler extolling the virtues of the Natalie Imbruglia single Torn for hours). 

I expected to like Gubler having been a fan of his work in Criminal Minds but was not expecting to fall as deeply in love with Angela Sarafyn as I did.  As Willow Sarafyn is absolutely luminous in this movie. Willow is kind, loving and gentle. I greatly enjoyed Sarafyn’s fond exasperation at the menfolk dancing over a candle as she can’t allow them free reign with fire as part of their Beltane celebrations as they’ll burn themselves.  She’s also fiercely protective worrying about Thorn on his voyage of discovery “You’re too old for a walkabout. You have weak ankles” and ferociously berating her coven members as “fair-weather fucks” after their rejection of Thorn.

Angela Sarafyn and Matthew Gray Gubler in King Knight. Image courtesy of King Knight LLC

But her moment of glory is the hilarious conversation between Thorn & Willow when he has to admit that he wasn’t quite so alternative at school. Sarafyn’s line reading of “Just tell me. Did you play sports?” and her reaction to his answer had me howling with laughter. “I’m sorry you had to wear Nautica shirts. It’s unspeakable” Sarafyn is absolutely wonderful in this movie. She and Gubler have genuine chemistry and together they sparkle.

Goddess of horror Barbara Crampton stars as Thorn’s mother and does a lovely job finding the grace notes in her character. She’s very funny as an ultra-conservative self-made woman who is the polar opposite of Thorn in every way but she never allows the character to be a caricature. I found myself wanting many more scenes of her.

All of Thorn’s coven are great but I especially liked Johnny Pemberton (Superstore) as Thorn’s college friend whose relationship with his boyfriend is in crisis. Swati Kapila also excels in a small role as the no-nonsense organiser of the high school reunion.

It all builds to a cathartic, spectacular dance routine that is right up there with Mads Mikkelsen’s dance at the end of Another Round. Thorn finally reconciles his past and his present, puts ego and doubt aside and in a beautiful moment of self-acceptance and joy dances his arse off while a spellbound Willow watches. Gubler shows off his moves in a dance routine that is goofy, daft and sexy as hell. 

Related: Richard Bates Jr discusses directing King Knight, his love of witches & not having to coax Matthew Gray Gubler to dance

King Knight is a very funny, warm, character-driven movie that encourages us all to be a little kinder, a little more open & to dance our hearts out because every shoe is a dancing shoe if we want it to be.

Maybe we could all learn a thing or two from Thorn’s coven.

King Knight had its world premiere at the Fantasia International Film Festival and has a further screening on 10 August