Hulu’s Into the Dark series sees a new feature-length installment each month tied to the relevant holiday, and while some avoid fully embracing said holiday with their stories and execution there are some that go deep in the other direction. Last month kicked off a strong start for season two with Halloween’s simple but highly effective Uncanny Annie, but November’s entry is far more committed to the premise. It’s not enough to make Pilgrim great, but it goes a long way toward making it entertaining and maybe a little bit thought provoking too.
Thanksgiving is a holiday built on the concept of giving thanks, but for many families it’s little more than an excuse to go big with decorations, events, and an extravagant meal. Anna (Courtney Henggeler) heads up one such household alongside her husband Shane (Kerr Smith) who gives her free reign even as he’s distracted by work and other outside interactions. Young Tate (Antonio Raul Corbo) is just along for the ride, but his older sister Cody (Reign Edwards) isn’t quite as accepting of mom’s latest effort — she’s invited a pair of Puritan cos-players to join them for the holiday to help recreate the first Thanksgiving. Ethan (Peter Giles) and Patience (Elyse Levesque) arrive in costume and in character, and soon the nightmare celebrating the invasion of North America begins.
Director Marcus Dunstan and writer Patrick Melton are veteran collaborators who’ve previously given viewers the likes of The Collector (2009), The Collection (2012), and the upcoming The Collected (2020) while also co-writing films like the Feast trilogy (2005-2009) and four of the Saw films. Their first collaborative foray into “television” lacks the flash and gore of those bigger efforts, but after a rocky and frustrating stretch it settles into a fun, thrilling home invasion tale that sees the family fighting back against the unwelcome visitors. It’s nearly a case of too little too late thanks to a series of annoyances, but it’s still a meal to be thankful for by the time the credits roll.
First, though, Pilgrim sets a tone that doesn’t fully work as attempts at comedy are paired with an increasing menace. It’s clear from the outset that Ethan and Patience aren’t exactly people you’d want in your house, but Anna rolls over and allows them to move in days before the holiday. Fellow pilgrims begin arriving in fast fashion, and while Cody voices dissent — she’s rude about it, but she ain’t wrong — the rest of the family welcomes them with blinders on. Films like Michael Haneke’s Funny Games (1997) and Darren Aronofsky’s mother! (2017) feel like inspirations for these first two acts as we’re meant to laugh along with the absurdities and antics even as we know it’s heading towards bloodshed, but as with those other films the overwhelming feeling is frustration with characters who are letting this happen. There’s no one for viewers to latch on to, and that disconnect hurts the experience.
Thankfully the film’s third act resolves all of its problems in fairly entertaining fashion. It’s a wild, nutty romp from that point forward, and while it still feels nonsensical — especially for a film that claims to be inspired by a true story — the increasingly ridiculous nature of it all works alongside the momentum and renewed sense of purpose. Things get messy in enjoyable ways, and as the family finds gratitude and an empowered appreciation for each other the holiday setting takes on a new meaning.
Cody points out the evils of Thanksgiving early on as it marking the beginning of the end for this country’s native population, and if you can see the arrival of God-fearing Europeans as the antagonists of this particular home invasion tale then Pilgrim starts to tease a celebratory catharsis of sorts. There are still no guarantees, but it’s only here in the third act that most viewers will start to feel grateful and appreciative of the film, its characters, and its especially tasty centerpiece meal.