Starring Tom Holland, Richard Armitage, Jon Bernthal, John Lynch, Stanley Weber
Directed by Brendan Muldowney
I’m a serious sucker for films that take place during the medieval era, especially ones with mystery, intrigue, and the potential for violence. Films like The Name of the Rose, The 13th Warrior, Black Death, and The Reckoning draw me in and delight me with a chance to see the world as it once was, just sometimes with a horror or thriller twist.
That’s why I was so excited by Pilgrimage, which stars Tom Holland (Spider-Man: Homecoming), Richard Armitage (The Hobbit trilogy, “Hannibal”), and Jon Bernthal (“The Punisher,” “The Walking Dead”). Alas, my expectations and hopes were not met in what is a frustrating film.
The movie follows a group of monks, along with a mute man (Bernthal), who live a life of peace and solitude in the remote regions of Ireland. One day a monk of the Cistercian order arrives and instructs them that a holy relic they are protecting must be delivered to Rome immediately. Believing this to be a terrible mistake but left with no choice, the monks select a few of their order, including the youngest member (Holland) and the mute, to make the journey with the Cistercian monk. Their path becomes fraught with danger, violence, and death as treachery and greed become the catalyst for deception, all while strange events occur. Is God on their side, or is he against their plan?
Right away I’ll say that the film is gorgeously done. The Irish fens, highlands, and coasts are shot with an eye for beauty. The production is also top-notch with everything seeming to fit the era. And as someone who loves hearing different languages, this film offers Gaelic, English, French, and Latin, so get ready to do some reading. For horror fans the violence is unflinching and particularly brutal. Those who enter this film seeking gore will no doubt be sated.
Additionally, the acting is stellar. Nearly entirely silent, Bernthal still manages to bring forth a character that is obviously in pain and seeks absolution for sins he has committed during the Crusades. Holland plays the pious, yet inexperienced Brother Diarmuid strongly while Armitage’s Raymond De Merville is a wonderful villain. Stanley Weber plays the Cistercian monk Brother Geraldus, a cowardly and duplicitous man that is well deserving of any feelings of animosity the audience has towards him.
Jamie Hannigan’s script works for most of the film and makes sense when one takes into account the history of the Crusades and the actions that took place during that time. However, it derails at the end when everything culminates in a series of events that left me staring at the screen feeling empty and unfulfilled. Everything that was fought for, everything that the story had built up, was dashed away; and even the remaining survivors didn’t have an answer for what was to come.
I found myself wondering for a while what the ending was trying to say. Was it that such journeys are futile? Was it a jab at organized religion? Or was it the opposite, trying to say that God works in mysterious ways? While much of the film cleverly allows the audience to come to their own conclusions, as with the mute and his backstory, the ending is left frustratingly open to interpretation with even the survivors at a loss of what to do or make of things.
Ultimately, Pilgrimage is an unsatisfying film, one that winds up feeling pointless. It’s a shame because the first two acts are so good, the production is wonderful, and the acting is brilliant. The problem is that the story itself doesn’t give us a gratifying conclusion. When the credits roll, there’s a lingering feeling of “What was it all for?“