Fantasia Festival: King Knight (2021)

Richard Bates Jr

Running Time: 78 Minutes

Starring: Matthew Gray Gubler, Angela Sarafyan, Andy Milonakis, Kate Comer, Nelson Franklin, Emily Chang, Johnny Pemberton, Josh Fadem, Barbara Crampton, Ray Wise

Leader of a modern Californian coven, Thorn (Matthew Gray Gubler) lives the dream alongside his life-partner, Willow (Angela Sarafyan). When not selling bird baths online, they act as mentors to coven members, offering guidance through issues such as jealousy, self-hatred, and misguided actions. This tranquility is threatened by a secret from Thorn's past, causing him to take a soul-searching journey back to his hometown.

Early into the film, writer/director Richard Bates Jr delivers the best descriptor for the characters, as a voiceover remarks that the most beautiful flowers can grow out of the biggest piles of excrement. This accurately reflects their paths, finally comfortable with their true selves instead of donning a façade to fit in with societal expectations. They're outcasts who find their home in each other, offering understanding and support where others didn't.

Gubler is tremendous as their leader, whose first priority is to look after his followers and help them overcome whatever adversity they face. He encourages others to face their problems and past issues, only to find the tables have turned and threaten the image he's cultivated for so long. These revelations are news to his life-partner, whose reactions are a high-point in Sarafyan's wonderful performance. Among this news is an appearance by Thorn's disapproving mother, played by an ever-delightful Barbara Crampton.

Where Bates Jr excels is telling a heartfelt story many will relate to by utilising strange elements and storytelling devices. While it doesn't all work, particularly portions involving animation and a pursuing park ranger, it's worthwhile when an emotional conversations with Merlin and a pine cone ring true. What's left is an effective tale about opening yourself up to a world which won't be accepting, and the loving bonds of a makeshift family.

King Knight had its World Premiere at Fantasia Festival 2021