Hulu’s “Into the Dark” anthology series of horror movies based around holidays can be hit-or-miss, but I wanted to revisit the Blumhouse/Hulu Thanksgiving offerings and see if they’re worth watching this year, and on Thanksgivings yet to come. Whether you’re spending Thanksgiving with family, working, quarantined, or not celebrating at all, we can all use a little light-hearted horror this year.
Pilgrim (2019) is about a family who’ve decided to celebrate their Thanksgiving together by having a “home harvest” re-enactment, during which they have actors playing pilgrims come to their home to teach them about the first Thanksgiving and what it means to be grateful. The teenage daughter, Cody (Reign Edwards) is extremely skeptical, informing her dad and step-mom that he does not need a white-washed history lesson of “the first Thanksgiving”. The family argues, and her father (Kerr Smith) suggests that they make up by breaking a wish bone. In a moment that sets the tone for the film, Cody looks at her step-mom, Anna (Courtney Henggler) and wishes for “the whole thing to blow up in her face”.
With bright colors and dreamy cinematography, Pilgrim moves quickly into the story that is equal parts ridiculous and suspenseful. The pilgrim re-enactor, Ethan (Peter Giles) comes to stay with the family a few days earlier than expected, while his companion, Patience (Elyse Levesque) comes to stay with Cody’s neighbors. The tension between Cody and her step-mom is palpable.
Cody’s Dad, Shane, is forever watching the stock market on his tablet, pretty oblivious to what’s going on around him. Cody’s mother, who we only see a brief glimpse of at the beginning of the film and in dream sequences, left her father on Thanksgiving when Cody was a child; it’s a difficult time of year for her, and not at all surprising that she’s extra on-edge and defensive around her well-meaning step-mother.
The unexpected early arrival of Ethan and Patience add to the tension, and the horror really picks up from there. What starts out as creepy and sinister quickly becomes bloody and nightmarish. More pilgrim re-enactors come to help prepare for the feast, and we quickly learn that they are not well-intentioned in their quest to teach families the meaning of gratitude.
Pilgrim is a disturbing and enjoyable reminder to be grateful for what you have; that maybe we should enjoy our families rather than being so focused on our “electronic windows to nowhere”. It’s really funny, really gruesome, and just self-aware enough of it’s ridiculousness that it never crosses over into Bad Movie territory. It’s creative, and truly entertaining, with a great aesthetic and score to boot. Some of the best moments of the entire “Into the Dark” anthology can be found in Pilgrim, and it’s absolutely one of the most successful installments of the series.
So how does Flesh & Blood, the 2018 Thanksgiving episode of “Into the Dark”, measure up? To put it bluntly, it falls short of its successor. It’s about a teenage girl, Kimberly (Diana Silvers) dealing with severe agoraphobia after the murder of her mother on the previous Thanksgiving. Kimberly’s only interactions are with friends online, her father Henry (Dermot Mulroney), and her therapist.
After Kimberly’s father gives her a necklace, she watches a local news segment on missing people — she begins to grow suspicious that her dad, Henry (Dermot Mulroney) may have had something to do with the disappearance of one of the girls when she sees a photo of her wearing that very same necklace. She does some snooping about the house, only to find more jewelry (that may belong to other missing girls) in her attic. These moments should be suspenseful, but the plot is too predictable — we realize before Kimberly does that her father is not to be trusted.
What does work, in terms of suspense, is a scene where Kimberly, recognizing that she is in danger if she stays at home, tries to leave to head to her Aunt’s house. Her agoraphobia wins in this scenario, and she retreats. Kimberly confronts her father about what he’s been up to; he uses her mental illness and the fact that she takes psychiatric medication to gaslight her. The tension between Kimberly and Henry becomes more effective as we realize what a complete a-----e Henry is, and we really start to root for Kimberly. While I think we’re supposed to be questioning if Kimberly’s father really is a murderous psychopath, or if her medication has her paranoid, this doesn’t work well here. It seems obvious that Kimberly is not crazy, and this particular plot device — “is she crazy, is it the medication, or is dad really a murderer?” — feels overdone and unnecessary here. Unfortunately, the film relies on us asking these questions.
Flesh & Blood can be a fun watch, but compared to Pilgrim, it’s boring. There are moments of absurdity, but it feels as though Flesh & Blood is trying to be a serious thriller/horror film. What works about Pilgrim is that it does not take itself too seriously — I got a few really good chuckles out while watching it. There’s a satisfying ending to Flesh & Blood, but the ending comes too late; it’s too long, and at 89 minutes, would have worked better at an hour or less.
While Pilgrim is, in every sense, a Thanksgiving movie, Flesh & Blood could have been set around any time of year — save for a line about pumpkin pie. Flesh & Blood might be worth a watch when you’re in your post-feast food coma; it’s entertaining, doesn’t require much thinking, and it’s a touch more wholesome than Pilgrim. I absolutely recommend checking out Pilgrim though; you’ll be so grateful you did.
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