Tribeca 2017: Pilgrimage
An epic period actioner revolving around a perilious journey in 13th century Ireland, Pilgrimage offers an intriguing blend of religious conflict and brutal violence.
Opening on a ghastly sequence where a man is stoned to death, that comes to form the crux of the plot, the focus shifts to the foreboding, overcast landscape of a small community of monks, ordered to send a treasured artifact across treacherous terrain.
Tom Holland, soon-to-be a major leading man (or Spider-Man, if you will), plays the youngest monk, the Novice, who has never stepped outside the confines of the sect, largely acting as the arbiter for the audience to see this quest through. Jon Bernthal acts as a brute mute, who is a trusted ally of the Novice, as well as his fierce, deadly protector with many secrets. Even with one single instance of dialogue in the film, Bernthal manages to convey a tantalizing performance, a testament to his abilities as a actor known mainly for his physicality.
For much of its first half, Pilgrimage is focused entirely around setting up the world around it, leading to lots of exposition and zero action, and as such feels like a bit of a slog. It's only when the travellers are ambushed by a group of wild, frenzied attackers that leaves most of their party dead, that things get interesting, resembling an episode of Vikings but with a greater emphasis on gore. Director Brendan Muldowney and screenwriter Jamie Hannigan do an admirable job of transporting the viewer to this world and making it feel lived in, feeling like a deadly road trip in the vein of Apocalypse Now or Mad Max: Fury Road, but with a Catholic spin.
Any hope that the subject matter will result in a complex, crisis of faith narrative like Martin Scorsese's recent Silence, is squandered however. It never quite gets there as the backdrop doesn't lend itself to a detailed, multifaceted view of the monks and their beliefs. And while the violence is stupendously constructed, it leaves the latter half feeling like a brawn over brains endeavor.
While requiring patience at the start, Pilgrimage is worth seeing through to the end, and makes for another fairly well-made entry in the religious epic subgenre.