I find Hulu’s holiday horror anthology series Into the Dark uneven, but I remain so charmed that it even exists that I keep sporadically checking it out and letting myself and develop high hopes. Pilgrim, last year’s Thanksgiving entry, is apparently generally well-regarded for its willingness to go all-in on both its Turkey Day trappings and its gonzo violence, but for me, like many Thanksgiving dinners, it wound up being both predictable and excessive.
Director Marcus Dunstan does know how to develop and then thoroughly lean into a premise, so he deserves the praise he gets for completely delivering on what the movie promises. Teenager Cody (Reign Edwards) reaches special heights of glum, disaffected teenagerdom on Thanksgiving, since for her it’s a holiday most notable as the day her mother left. Her father has since remarried–years ago, apparently, as he and his new wife have a school-aged son–but though Cody loves her little brother, she still hasn’t adjusted to her overcompensating stepmother, Anna (Courtney Henggeler), who gives off stressed Stepford vibes in her attempt to create a perfect suburban home. Anna’s attempts to create a picture-perfect family lead to her inviting historical reenactors to come to their home for Thanksgiving, as part of a program designed to teach families the true meaning of gratitude and togetherness and stop people from being on their phones so damned much. Everyone else reacts to this idea with the appropriate amount of horror–if there’s one thing a tense family dinner doesn’t need, it’s a weirdo stranger dressed like a Pilgrim–but Anna is insistent, and her husband (Kerr Smith) is too checked-out to adequately resist.
It doesn’t even qualify as a spoiler to note that this Pilgrims have something sinister and Saw-like in mind, i.e., torturing you in order to drive home how grateful you should be that you’re not constantly being tortured; somber Ethan (Peter Giles) and dour Patience (Elyse Levesque) never for a moment act like they’re playing anything other than horror movie villains. And this actually works, for the most part, allowing dread to build and build as Ethan and Patience gradually ignore more and more boundaries and push further and further. But then the tension bursts–almost literally, in the form of a butter churn full of blood that has nothing on the mashed baby from The Witch–and the movie subsides into a gory cat-and-mouse game that, like Rise of Skywalker, tries to provide too many thematic through-lines and consequently subsides into incoherence. Is this a story of a strained family coming together to kill these creepy home invaders who insist that they be happy? Briefly! (And this gets us the best line: “Did we just murder… as a family?”) A satire of the upper-upper-middle-class’s shallowness and hypocrisy? Early on! A story about Cody and Anna finally connecting? Briefly! A story about the commercialization of the family and the sham origins of Thanksgiving as a holiday? Not really, though it would really like you to think so. A gore-fest? Sort of, but unless mere fountains of blood do it for you, you’ve seen more creative things elsewhere. Its final touch is developing a mean streak, meting out blame that doesn’t remotely feel deserved; if that had happened earlier, the movie might have had some twisted momentum, but coming when it does, it only proves that it lacks heart. What could have been a funhouse Thanksgiving version of The Stepfather ultimately turns into a meaningless exercise in splatter.
However, the film does offer some appealing Thanksgiving horror sight-gags, such as corn-shucking at knife-point, and a reasonably good showcase for the very good Reign Edwards. It isn’t without merit. But I’m not thankful for it.