★★ out of ★★★★★
Directed by Marcus Dunstan
Tucked neatly between two pretty cool holidays is a celebration that’s pretty mundane. Face it Thanksgiving ain’t all that great, nor is gluttony. It’s definitely a tough spot to be in. The equivalent in the world of horror is being unfortunately stuck between horror and comedy. That’s exactly where the 2019 Blumhouse/Hulu film Pilgrim fits.
Sort of funny. Sort of horror. But really neither.
Pilgrim, part of the exhaustive holiday themed horror series Into the Dark, is a pretty solid bit of filmmaking, but the problem is that it never quite figures out its proverbial lane. There’s a couple scares and a couple laughs, but neither tilts too heavily in either direction.
Pilgrim follows a young family as the holidays approach and the parents deal with entitled kids with far too many electronic devices. The self-involved kids are only bested by the self-involved parents who desperately work to keep up appearances and ensure that their holiday is Instagram perfect.
To help in their quest for status and hubris the parents hire a group of Mayflower-esque Thanksgiving actors who work to ensure that this holiday will be filled with back-to-the-basics family merriment. Churning butter, killing animals, some light religion, and NO iPads.
Almost immediately the family (save for the Dad (Kerr Smith)) begins to realize that the Pilgrims may have darker intentions that don’t align with the highly revisionist version of the first Thanksgiving that we’ve been fed for centuries, nor do they align with today’s techno-status obsessions.
These Pilgrims are less like their Brownist separatist brethren, and more closely aligned to a gang of cult-like weirdos that you might find in a Purge film. They’re out to teach a lesson and that lesson is gratitude. Lack of gratitude and collective community identity translates to punishment and death. Led by the perfectly over the top Ethan (Peter Giles) these Pilgrims aren’t going to pass the cranberry sauce, just pain.
Pilgrim has a handful of funny moments that largely come from on-the-nose colonial dissertations by the family’s daughter, Cody (Reign Edwards), and a handful of reasonable jumpscares. The the overall tone is middling and the fact that the family is a colossal gang of entitled dimwits gives the audience very little to root for in the end.
Also nagging the film is the fact that the Pilgrim’s origins and their intentions are entirely unclear. Are they really a cult? Is this a colonial offshoot of Q-Anon? Are they really devious and unforgiving or is there really some empathy at the core of their puritanical lessons? All these questions and many more go complete unexplored as the third act devolves into a bloody and non-sensical mess.
This is a story that can and should be told. It’s fascinating to see the intersection between our present day obsessions set against the backdrop of earnest religious indignation. But without more humor or a hell of a lot more dread and terror, we’re really just left with some empty calories and a bland taste in our mouth.
Pilgrim is TV-MA and currently streaming on Hulu.