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Stepping boldly away from the slew of retread action shooters and seen-it-all before summer dramas comes Pilgrimage, a unique adventure tale that treads on often uncharted lands, and not since Jean-Jacques Annaud‘s 1986 classic The Name of the Rose has there been a more compelling story involving monks and mystery. It’s a challenging film, sometimes brutal, but a powerful one nonetheless.
In 55 AD, a Catholic man of great importance is dragged to an isolated plain and stoned to death by his persecutors, the killing stone wielded in two hands as a storm gathers above, the blow making the man a martyr and the rock now a treasured relic. It is housed in a modest monastery in the hills of Ireland nearly a thousand years later in 1209 AD and is thought to be a source of great power. As the Crusades wage on, drawing nearer to the island, Rome is forced to send an emissary in Brother Geraldus (Stanley Weber) to move the relic back to the Pope and so he travels with Brothers Ciaran (John Lynch), Rua (Ruaidhri Conroy), Diarmuid (Tom Holland), and a man called The Mute (Jon Bernthal) across the dangerous lands of Europe. They are met by Norman knights, led by Raymond (Richard Armitage) who offer their protection but have vested interests of their own.
Directed by Brendan Muldowney, Pilgrimage is a multi-lingual journey, dark and atmospheric, sometimes gruesome with a gripping sense of authenticity. It’s muddied and grimy and entrenched in the times with the men in this circle greatly tested. We are meant to question the motives and actions of all those compelled to join the march, learning of the vast diversity among them and the reasons for their quest. At the heart of it all are the monks, with weathered, wise, and aged Ciaran guiding the far younger and curious Diarmuid, unfamiliar with the armored men who surround him. By its very nature, it is a test of one’s faith as trust is laid at their feet. Not all will pass.
As grounded as it is in its religion, the story is more about the times, and as such the men fall upon terrible, graphic violence. Muldowney spares nothing in its savagery, keeping it once again, startling realistic. Bodies and limbs are severed and pierced, heads roll and blood spills, but it’s never hyper-stylized like in most contemporary films, but rather jarringly convincing. A terrifying ambush by a fierce clan of woodsman is a brutal moment and from it a surprise force among them rises. And no matter the battles, what convinces more is the harrowing sorrow and agony some will endure. It’s not always easy to watch, but it is impossible to look away.
Pilgrimage follows a familiar road, a trapping of the premise, the rock the MacGuffin throughout, yet Muldowney never relents, keeping this a taut thriller throughout. Performances all around are above board with Holland very good as the boy whose arc is the most defined though Bernthal, in a (almost) completely silent role, is astonishing. Buoyed by Stephen McKeon‘s excellent thunderous, choral-fused score and Tom Comerford‘s cinematography, Pilgrimage delivers a terrifying and grueling viewing experience that hits hard and resonates long after.
Movie description: Pilgrimage is a 2017 adventure about a group of monks in 13th century Ireland who must escort a sacred relic across an Irish landscape fraught with peril.
Director(s): Brendan Muldowney
Actor(s): Tom Holland, Richard Armitage, Jon Bernthal