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Categories: Movie Reviews

Matthew Wilson breaks his vow of silence on star-studded medieval journey Pilgrimage, but is the film worth shouting about?

Pilgrimage comes across as a mix between Valhalla Rising and Silence, but manages to stand on its own as an interesting examination of faith.

Set in Ireland, 1209, the film follows a group of monks who are tasked by Brother Geraldus (Stanley Weber) to transport a powerful artefact known as The Relic to Rome. Included in the group is young Diarmuid (Tom Holland), a novice to the Order on his first mission outside the Monk’s settlement, and a violent man known only as The Mute (Jon Bernthal).

The group is found by Raymond de Merville (Richard Armitage), son of the local Baron (Eric Godon), the Baron offers protection in exchange for absolution but Raymond betrays the Monks, attempting to take The Relic for himself to use as a bargaining tool in the Crusades. With only a handful of them left, the Monks fight through the odds to see the safe delivery of The Relic.

On paper, it doesn’t sound like the most original story but it works in execution. While the driving force is the protection of The Relic, the film cleverly includes questioning of faith. Not as pronounced as a film like Silence but Man’s relation to God does play a part. The biggest problem is the last twenty minutes are rushed. It feels like we’re warming into the third act but it soon becomes clear that the film is coming to an end leaving a sense that there was more story to tell.

Diarmuid is the youngest of the Monks, who’s lived too sheltered, and sent with The Relic to experience the real world. Being as young as he is, Diarmuid does try to do things without bloodshed. At times, taking a riskier path to avoid someone getting hurt. As he goes on, he starts questioning a lot more. Particularly orders from Geraldus, whose blind faith seems to be causing more harm than good. Admittedly it’s not a role that requires a lot from Holland but, after seeing him take on Peter Parker in the MCU, the contrast with the much more passive Diarmuid shows a good range.

Geraldus portrays the truly faithful. Having, personally, met the pope and acting as his representative in on this mission. What’s interesting about Geraldus is that the same faith he gets his strength from is what makes him weak. He’s so focussed on delivering God’s message that he sees anyone who doesn’t believe as beneath him and, once we learn of how far he’s gone in the name of his faith, it solidifies him as the film’s hidden villain. It’s such a subtle evil that Geraldus works through manipulation without even realising it, ordering others to do his bidding in the name of the Lord. He’s the type of character you need in this film to show the faults from within.

The Mute is a mysterious figure who arrived at the Monastery and hasn’t spoken a word since. However, due to his brute strength and unwavering loyalty, the monks allowed him to stay. While The Mute does have belief, it’s clear he doesn’t care for the sillier aspects. His main priority is survival and won’t let superstition stop him. He could’ve easily turned selfish but Bernthal keeps him focussed on protecting the Monks, either through loyalty or a greater belief than he’ll admit to. Bernthal has a fury within him to make this character work and he stands as one of the best parts of the film, he does have a single line at the end of the film that just makes the character that much more intriguing.

Rounding out the cast was Raymond and what made him an interesting villain was just how convinced he was he was doing the right thing. And, looking from his perspective, you see that Raymond had a point. He wanted The Relic to empower the King and strengthen his alliance with the Church. He’s convinced himself of his own noble intentions but you know someone like Raymond wouldn’t be able to stop himself from claiming power.

The one flaw I can give director Brendan Muldowney is that his vision far exceeds his budget. A lot of the film is shot in deserted forests or marshes. It’s fine for what the film is looking for but there’s very little imagination and the film can’t help but feel off. Tying back to what I said about the finale feeling rushed. The locations are forgivable but some of the fight scenes are trying to appear bigger than they are, with an ambush being the film’s wannabe highlight.

Where Muldowney works best is in how he’s able to handle the thematic weight of questioning belief. With The Relic in tow, a lot of faith based events start occurring but there’s always a logical answer. Lightning strikes The Relic, leaving it unharmed but perhaps the metal chest acted as a conductor. A bell rang out to signal The Mute as God’s Soldier, or it could’ve been the sound of a spear piercing a helmet. Raymond even says himself, The Relic could easily be replaced with something else and people would still believe in it. Believers, in this world, are dying and the remnants are fighting a losing battle; allowing Muldowney to question the necessity of this quest and where it’s taking the group.

Its budget concerns notwithstanding, Pilgrimage tackles the question of faith in a faithless land and makes for an experience both entertaining and insightful. Its less original aesthetics don’t take away from the central focus and offer discussions on the history of Faith in the developing world.

Pilgrimage is out now on DVD and Blu ray.

Posted on Aug 9, 2017

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