Every year at Thanksgiving, many of us go around the table to divulge that which we are most thankful for. For many, it’s the only time of year they take out even a brief moment to contemplate their gratefulness for all they have, and maybe that’s the problem.
The newest entry in Hulu’s anthology horror series Into the Dark, takes a closer look at just that, while also giving us a horror film based around a holiday that so often gets ignored: Thanksgiving.
Pilgrim begins with a typical American family, and all the drama and baggage that it entails. Teenager Cody (Reign Edwards) yearns to get out of her parents’ house (like all teens), and can’t help but resent her stepmother Anna (Courtney Henggeler) for reasons that aren’t even her own fault, she just needs someone to rebel against.
It also doesn’t help that her family are the epitome of rich people who are completely out of touch with reality. They even go so far as to hire pilgrim reenactors to join them for Thanksgiving and help get them in the spirit. However, these “actors” show up several days early, claiming they need to get settled for a few days first.
The pilgrims Ethan (Peter Giles) and Patience (Elyse Levesque) seem quite pleasant at first, bringing the family together, and encouraging them to live in the moment rather than on their electronic devices. But it soon takes a very dark turn!
These pilgrims begin to suspect that Cody and her family are not truly thankful for their blessings, and therefore must be taught a lesson. They bring in the rest of their colony so to speak to hold the family hostage, which ultimately results in brutally fatal consequences.
The Dangers of Extremism
The story of the pilgrims emigration is a fascinating one. Beginning with religious persecution in England, they traveled to the New World (where they went and persecuted the natives) simply because their beliefs were too extreme, even for the Church of England.
While Pilgrim leaves it somewhat ambiguous as the origin of Ethan and his people, one thing is quite clear: they have all the religious fanaticism that the real pilgrims and puritans did centuries ago! Their belief system was based around an angry and vengeful God, who demanded absolute devotion and blood repayment for any sin.
So in this situation, it seems only natural to them that not only does Cody’s family need to be cleansed of their sins, but that they’re the ones God has called to do it. This film comes from the minds of Marcus Dunstan and Patrick Melton (along with Noah Feinberg), who were also screenwriters on Saw IV to Saw: The Final Chapter.
And whether it was intentional or not, Ethan comes off a lot of Jigsaw as he spouts his philosophy of people needing to appreciate their blessings. Given the nature of Thanksgiving, this seems like the most rational way to craft a horror film around it. And it’s much more nuanced than a killer turkey running around (no offense Thankskilling).
The True Meaning of Thanksgiving
When it comes to holiday horror, most films fall into one of two categories: horror films that just so happen to be set on the holiday, and ones that truly live and breathe the holiday. In many ways, Pilgrim is the latter.
Not only because of the entire plot revolving around judgement and vengeful pilgrims, but because of all the subtle nuances that perfectly capture the spirit of Thanksgiving itself. As Cody deals with the horror of these murderous pilgrims, she learns the very lesson that she should have from the very beginning: to appreciate the family that she has.
There’s also a subtle, awkward humor woven throughout. Even at the beginning, when Ethan first joins the family, we can’t help but feel the awkwardness that’s accompanied by many Thanksgiving dinners, as we interact with relatives we don’t normally see the rest of the year.
The only areas where the film lacks it, at times it tries too hard to be edgy and stylish, simply for the sake of doing so. There are a few moments where slow motion is randomly used, along with an electronic synth that makes certain scenes feel like they’re straight out of a music video.
This is an alarming trend present in many films today, as producers feel the need to make their films more visually interesting to cater to audiences with diminishing attention spans. But since the rest of the film is so subtle and good and building tension, these stylistic choices simply don’t fit.
However, aside from this minor issue, Pilgrim is a lot of fun and uses its unique premise very effectively. As Into the Dark provides horror fans with viewing material for each holiday, this makes a perfect addition to one that so often gets overlooked and swept up by Christmas!
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