Into the Dark: Pilgrim (2019)
Updated: Jun 1, 2023
In all honesty I have never been a big Thanksgiving fan. I absolutely love Halloween and Christmas, but Thanksgiving is just a food-filled pit stop in between those two. To my surprise there are Thanksgiving themed horror movies and the one I recently watched, Pilgrim (2019) is not nearly as bad as I had anticipated. Directed by Marcus Dunstan this Into the Dark installment met and at time exceeded my expectations. Considering my indifference to Thanksgiving I didn’t have much hope that a Pilgrim focused horror movie would deliver anything more than racism and destruction. On the contrary the central theme centered around being thankful, or rather grateful for the life you have. Taking the modern interpretation of Thanksgiving and putting it onto the historical aspect of the feast shared by Indigenous with the Pilgrims way back when settlers were first arriving to the land they’d eventually steal. We should all be aware of the history now that despite what American propaganda would like us to believe the Pilgrims are the villains and the Natives are the unsuspecting victims of selfish and ruthless invaders.
Luckily, there is one character in this movie who not only is aware of these facts but challenges the other characters during the celebratory events surrounding Thanksgiving, the Pilgrim’s religious teachings, and gender roles. We open on a scene of the back of a little girl’s head with two adults arguing in the background. The background is fuzzy, but we can gather that it is most likely a little girl and her two parents arguing. A flash forward takes us to the present day where we can gather that the little girl is now a teenager and the main character, Cody, played by Reign Edwards. Before going any further I need to address Cody’s wig. Cody is clearly a biracial woman (based on the knowledge that her father, Shane, played by Kerr Smith, is white) and I am going to infer that rather than show her natural hair they wanted her to wear a wig, which would be fine. Except that the wig is horrid. Not a lace front, shiny like they didn’t even attempt to make it look natural and with a curl that looks fresh out the box, not styled. This brings me to a mini rant about how black women and women of color with type 3 and especially type 4 hair are not treated with the respect and dignity they deserve to be when it comes to hair and makeup. You should not be a makeup or hairstylist on movie or fashion sets if you cannot do all types of hair. It makes zero sense that you would cast people of color and then have them on screen lookin a damn fool because you didn’t vet if anyone could lay a damn wig. They had the audacity to film this wig on Cody’s head underwater where you could see her natural hair line and the band on the inside as the wig lifted. As if the hair didn’t look bad enough outside of the water. Honestly now that I think about it the wig looked better and more realistic after she came out of the water.
Anyways, during a character establishing dinner we learn that Cody’s mother isn’t in the picture, her workaholic dad, Shane, pays around $60,000 a year for her to attend boarding school, Cody skips class, and hates her try hard stepmother, Anna, played by Courtney Henggeler. We also learn that Cody has a half-brother, Tate, played by Antonio Raul Corbo, with whom she has a decent relationship. In a misguided attempt to bring the family together Anna has decided that they will be hosting Thanksgiving pilgrim re-enactors who will take them through a traditional, historic celebration. Which just off rip sounds horrifying. We then get this seemingly unimportant scene of Tate and Cody breaking a wishbone where we hear a voiceover of Cody wishing that her stepmother’s Thanksgiving plans blow up in her face as Cody breaks off the larger piece of the wishbone. So clearly this is a foreshadow that this holiday is about to go awry. For no reason at all we hear a distorted voice repeat what Tate says. This is an unimportant detail but extremely bizarre because it is the only time that this occurs in the whole movie.
For the sake of not going over every detail the next few scenes entail an HOA meeting hosted by Anna where we learn that she isn’t well liked and seen as a fake social media brag. We also establish that Cody is dating a neighbor boy, Finn. Mid-party the pilgrim re-enactors, Ethan, and Patience, arrive early and don’t break character for one second. Cody is the only suspicious one and Anna passes Patience, played by Elyse Levesque, off to Finn’s mom, Katherine. Late at night Cody finds Ethan, played by Peter Giles, telling Tate a bedtime story, alone in Tate’s room which is red flag central. Cody can’t find any information about this reenactment group online, but Finn tells her to chill out. We learn Ethan is all about gratitude and has some sort of sordid history with his family. Katherine makes the mistake of being ungrateful about her life when she’s talking to Patience in her kitchen who then makes her some sketchy herbal tea. Back at Cody’s we discover that creepy Ethan has made an entire shed in their backyard overnight. Anna and Ethan are replacing the lights with candles and lanterns and are requesting that all electronics be given to them. How could this possibly go wrong.
They inform Cody that Tate and Ethan have gone foraging and gotten berries for the feast but warn not to eat the green stemmed ones because they’re poisonous. To this I say why the hell would you bring the poisonous ones back to the house unless they’re a plot device to be revisited later.
We flash to Finn in his house where he puts his phone on a table by the front door to charge, the weirdest action by a teenage character ever. He looks for his mom, Katherine, only to find Patience churning butter so aggressively that her hands are bleeding while she stares out the window. Terrified by this creepy pilgrim lady Finn backs out of the room to find his mother dead on the floor. He runs downstairs to his table phone but when he picks it up to call for help, he’s attacked from behind. Should’ve just went out the front door but whatever.
Cody finds Ethan trying to indoctrinate Tate into their weirdo religion in the shed and confronts him. More pilgrims are now around with no explanation from Ethan other than what their roles are like “builder” when asked. Disturbed by this Cody goes to find Finn only to find his body in the front closet. While this is happening Shane and Anna are captured, dressed in pilgrim era garb, and put into (HEAD SHACKLE THINGY). They’re lectured about not appreciating their lives and being so focused on technology rather than one another. Ethan proceeds to brand both Anna and Shane which he follows up by maniacal laughter. Cody goes home rather than going to find help after discovering a crime scene and frees her parents. In a bonding moment, all three take down a pilgrim together.
The family’s plan is then for Cody to go get help and for Anna and Shane to sneak into the house to rescue Tate from inside without alarming the pilgrims inside. This clearly doesn’t go well because not nearly enough has happened for the movie to be over, so Cody is captured in the driveway and Shane is stabbed, falls, and then gets the axe from Patience. Cut to Cody and Anna tied to chairs in the backyard, Anna gagged and being slapped. Random but Anna sounds like a turkey gobbling during this scene which is very on brand for the movie. Then in truly annoying fashion the pilgrims, directed by Ethan, lift Cody over the pool and dunk her in and out. This is the scene where we get shots of that horrid wig underwater. Cody is almost drowned as Ethan yells and asks if she is grateful. Once Ethan is satisfied that she has faced death and is grateful she gets to come out of the torture contraption. The pilgrims and their captives then go inside to have Anna shuck corn and Cody smash berries for the Thanksgiving feast.
Realizing they are screwed Cody plays along and declares all the things she’s been ungrateful for and that it’s true they didn’t appreciate their lives. Anna decides bump that and even though she’s the reason they’re in this mess she doesn’t repent. Cody with the quick thinking picks up a sharp tool and stabs patience in the hand and head and Anna realizing this is their moment throws flour into the candles, causing a mini blaze? Not sure why this is even a thing but it’s a thing. They capture them of course and Cody’s wish comes up. Back in captivity Anna and Cody are about to be forced to enjoy the feast. The main dish is none other than Shane himself, revealed to them when a cover is taken off a dish and his head with an apple in it is the centerpiece. Uh-oh these pilgrims are cannibals. They proceed to enjoy their feast of Shane and force Anna and Cody to eat parts of Shane that they proceed to spit out. At this point I’m thinking do they even want to survive this event.
Suddenly, the pilgrims start to choke and cough up blood. This leads to a truly disgusting scene of Ethan forcing himself to vomit and a shower of said vomit raining down on another dying pilgrim. This scene is truly gross, but we have managed to get one over on the pilgrims. We learn that Cody, when mashing the berries earlier, put the poisonous ones in and all of the pilgrims proceeded to eat that poison. Patience is looking for Tate upstairs but succumbs to the poison. Tate then frees Anna and Cody. But wait, Patience wasn’t dead. We then have two battles, one between Anna and Patience and another between Ethan and Cody. Highlights from these battles is Anna using Shane’s head as a weapon to hit Patience with who she then stabs in the neck.
Anna and Cody then confront Ethan, beating him together. Cody asks Ethan why the hell they’d do all of this, and he says it’s to make them grateful and aren’t they grateful. He also asks Cody isn’t this what she wished for. Upon hearing this Cody takes an axe and says, “Happy Thanksgiving” and then off camera kills Ethan. We see his feet go lax and then his hand open to reveal none other than that damn wishbone from the beginning of the movie.
All things considered this Thanksgiving themed romp could’ve been a lot worse. I appreciated that Cody called out how odd and potentially dangerous this whole ordeal was from the beginning however I am far brattier and would’ve said, “I leave or the pilgrims leave” because no way that this was ending any way but horribly. Not particularly scary in any sense with minimal jump scenes and the gore mostly confined to the final act, it’s still a decent watch. It’s not too long that you’re sitting there wondering how certain scenes made the cut but not too short that you’re left wondering why nothing had an explanation. I like the fact that there isn’t really confirmation if this is a group of crazies or rather some supernatural manifestation tied entirely to Cody’s wish. Considering that Ethan has knowledge that only he could have and that the pilgrims don’t break character I’m leaning towards supernatural. That also begs the question however, do these pilgrims have a history of rolling into town on Thanksgiving to terrorize family’s they perceive as ungrateful? There is a newspaper clipping in the beginning credits that showed a missing family, so I assume that this family is not the first. I also wonder why the pilgrims are not at all shocked by modern technology, clothing, or trends.
With a movie like this though I will give it a pass on answering all the questions simply because that would take a lot of the mystery and intrigue out of the viewing experience. If you’re looking for a Thanksgiving themed horror movie this holiday season, I would recommend Pilgrim (2019) even if it’s only to yell at your screen asking characters why they would make those choices.
Recommended score: 6/10