'Pilgrimage': Film Review

Pilgrimage Still 1 - Publicity - H 2017
Courtesy of Kris Dewitte
Spidey fans needn't bother.

Tom Holland plays a monk helping to deliver a holy relic to Rome in Brendan Muldowney's violent, 13th century-set drama.

Tom Holland fans shouldn’t expect the new Spider-Man to make any lighthearted quips in his latest film, in which he plays a taciturn Irish monk. A tale about a group of 13th century monks attempting to transport a holy relic to Rome at the behest of the pope, Pilgrimage alternates long stretches of tedium with ultra-violent sequences that have the feel of medieval torture porn. Its dialogue may be rendered in languages including Gaelic, French and English, but it doesn’t much matter when it features lines on the order of “No one but the pure of heart can touch the relic and live.”

The young British actor plays Brother Diarmuid, a novice monk living in a remote monastery that receives a papal envoy led by the Cistercian Brother Geraldus (Stanley Weber). He informs them that the Church requires the holy relic they’ve long had in their possession, one that was apparently used in the stoning of a Catholic martyr. Cue a treacherous road trip, as the monks are enlisted to accompany the papal emissary back to Rome to help defend the treasure from various groups of pagan infidels.

Besides the young and innocent Diarmuid, the ragtag group includes Brother Ciaran (John Lynch), a wise senior monk who remains dubious about the mission, and “The Mute” (Jon Bernthal), who was found years earlier washed up on the shore and taken under the monastery’s wing. Fortunately for them, the Mute’s stoic demeanor and vow of silence doesn’t mean that he’s lost the fierce fighting skills that got him through the Crusades.

Eventually joining the group is a band of Norman soldiers whose leader (Richard Armitage) agrees to protect the monks throughout their arduous journey. But his true motivations are far more nefarious.

Director Brendan Muldowney strains hard to create a suitably somber medieval atmosphere, such as so rigorously draining the film of color that one struggles to remember that Ireland is known for being green. The relentlessly monochromatic palette quickly proves wearisome, as does the stilted language, the unsubtle characterizations and the musical score depending heavily on Gregorian chants. (What, you were expecting Coldplay?)

Holland displays little of the charisma here that he exhibited in Spider-Man: Homecoming, although, to be fair, his costume here isn’t nearly as fun. And while veteran actors Weber and Lynch make strong impressions, it’s Bernthal who steals the film with his intense, nearly wordless performance (even those who’ve taken a vow of silence will utter a word under the right violent circumstances) that makes his badass characters on The Walking Dead and Daredevil seem wimps by comparison. With his buff physicality and commanding presence filling the screen throughout the frequently sluggish proceedings, he almost single-handedly makes Pilgrimage a cinematic journey worth taking.

Production companies: Savage Productions, Wrong Men North, XYZ Films
Distributor: RLJ Entertainment
Cast: Tom Holland, Jon Bernthal, Richard Armitage, Stanley Weber, John Lynch
Director: Brendan Muldowney
Screenwriter: Jamie Hannigan
Producers: Conor Barry, John Keville, Benoit Roland
Executive producers: Geir Henning Eikeland, Rory Gilmartin, Stig Hjerkinn Haug, Kjetil Omberg, Nick Spicer
Director of photography: Tom Comerford
Production designer: Owen Power
Editor: Mairead McIvor
Costume designer: Leonie Prednergast
Composer: Stephen McKeon
Casting: Daniel Hubbard

96 minutes