(Blumhouse Television and Hulu have partnered for a monthly horror anthology series titled Into The Dark, set to release a full holiday-themed feature the first Friday of every month. Horror anthology expert Matt Donato will be tackling the series one-by-one, stacking up the entries as they become streamable.)
As a preacher of the good holiday horror word, Thanksgiving’s scant offerings leave my stomach rumbling. Last season’s November Into The Dark analysis began similarly; me lamenting over how Turkey Day has largely been ignored by genre filmmakers. Into The Dark’s Flesh & Blood popped out the oven dry and flavorless, but Marcus Dunstan’s Pilgrim charts a course for redemption. Guess that’s what happens when the minds behind multiple Saw sequels, three Feast flicks, and The Collector franchise take cosplaying to a disturbingly enraged level.
This Thanksgiving, Anna (Courtney Henggeler) invites surprise guests in the form of 1620s reenactment players who simulate America’s inaugural feast. Husband Shane (Kerr Smith), daughter Cody (Reign Edwards), and son Tate (Antonio Raul Corbo) are about to experience their first Thanksgiving meal prepared by *actual* pilgrims – well, historically accurate pilgrims played by actors. Ethan (Peter Giles) and Patience (Elyse Levesque) arrive buckles tight and period garb pressed clean, speaking about the bountiful harvest that awaits. Then their colonial brothers and sisters start arriving, overtaking Anna’s household. Cody apprehensively questions the lunatics committed to their parts, and she has sufficient reason. Ethan will show Anna’s family what they have to be grateful for, or they’ll die selfish and greedy.
This is the kind of holiday committal I’ve been craving from Into The Dark. It’s November. Slather horror cornucopias thick with gravy and cranberry sauce. Patrick Melton and co-writer Noah Feinberg stuff their bird of a script with plentiful Thanksgiving notes from costuming to Ethan’s old-world accent to culinary preparation. This is a horror story about honoring tradition and punishing those who are not “grateful” that’s steeped in psychosis, adorning the festivity Into The Dark deserves.
Disciple Ethan is a god-fearing man of puritanical devotion, erecting wood sheds and making himself at home via invasion just as settlers once did to then-indigenous peoples of North America. Peter Giles sells ten shades of crazy, an actor who differentiates not between costumes or reality. As he *screams* “GRATEFUL!” at his kidnapped hosts, torturing each until their gratitude beams, Giles loses himself within a pilgrimage straight into insanity. Modern tortures traded for pillories and outdated dunking mechanisms, all while Ethan praises the lord’s virtues and living a life of constant appreciation.
Sans a half-turkey, half-man slasher villain that slaughters anyone who eats his brethren for dinner, Ethan is a quintessential Thanksgiving villain. Patience his emotionless right hand; a follower in the name of simplicity, acknowledgment, and baking damn-scrumptious fixings.
Pilgrim’s handling of Cody, Anna, and family dynamics are hammed up to accentuate what exposed wounds will be exploited by Ethan. Take Cody’s inability to respect any of Anna’s requests, making good on her “dream” of Anna’s in-home plan backfiring upon breaking the bigger wishbone piece. Shane, too busy caught up reviewing stock market fluctuations to tend family proper. Anna’s obsession with status is no different, or friend Katherine’s (Beth Curry) inability to express thanks over simple pleasures such as shelter. Nothing groundbreaking, and sometimes overplayed – but all works within Dunstan’s exaggerated universe. Where random invitees – whose website can’t be located by Cody – play “little house on the prairie” to gruesome results.
Dunstan cleverly stokes the flames of paranoia through cinematography, by implementing fast camera whips and speedy zooms as to highlight how Cody’s world dissipates quicker than musket smoke. Throughout Pilgrim’s climactic gobble-up sequence, a gospel choir bellows “Be Grateful!” on repeat as diners stuff their faces with exotic game, juxtaposing the humble reflection of Thanksgiving against those unspeakable atrocities being witnessed. The aforementioned wishbone becomes a weapon, food a diversion, and gore a method of spoiling what fresh harvests hath provided. A holiday condemned by malevolent glee and resounding notes of thematic embellishment.
Into The Dark Season 2 is off to a stellar start between Uncanny Annie and Pilgrim, the latter of which answers one of my biggest complaints about last season: embrace holiday horrors for Krampus’ sake. Pilgrim is an evil Thanksgiving tale with all the death-soaked trimmings. One that exposes America’s violent history behind November’s otherwise “happiest” gathering while scrubbing innocence from the calendar date. There’s something so unsettling about Ethan getting called on his bullshit (incorrectly stating what fish he caught off the Mayflower), only to double-down on beliefs in punishment. A testament to the cultish scenario Marcus Dunstan creates, Peter Giles leads, and the diabolical role-playing they unleash all before Patience’s dinner bell tolls.
/Film Rating: 7.5 out of 10
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