Pilgrimage (2017)

A group of monks is sent to escort a sacred relic across the land in 13th century Ireland.  Along the way enemies and friends alike try to derail their mission.

Written by Jamie Hannigan and directed by Brendan Muldowney, Pilgrimage is a period piece peppered with action sequences that make logical sense within the confines of its story.  Here the monks are working with knights and others to battle enemies and bring the sacred relic their guard to a higher Catholic Church power.  The story is simple at its based, but the characters added, including a mute stranger helping the monks, create a mystery and help the tension along with the twists that take their time to come and be revealed.  This way of developing the story works well with the time period its set in and the group of characters involved.  The characters created here have some background in terms of their archetypes, but not that much information on who they are as people and where they come from or what their goals are besides keeping the relic safe or obtaining the relic.

Playing those characters and given them much more life than their simple descriptions is a cast of talented actors.  Giving a strong performance, a surprising one even, is Tom Holland (yes that Tom Halland) as Brother Diarmuid, the newer, younger monk who takes his task very seriously but who also shows more humanity in how he deals with facing the enemy and taking decisions that may or may not be good for his safety and that of others.  He plays his part earnestly and gives it all he has, playing a character that much older, much more experienced actors would not have been able to handle this well.  This is a strong performance that would have brought him to forefront if his current swing as Peter Parker was not making him uber-famous at the moment.  Another superhero actor playing a part that is surprising but also kind of half expected for him is Jon Bernthal as The Mute, the man helping the monks in their day to day lives and also through their mission.  He plays this mute character with great nuances and shows that subtly is key with characters that must remain mysterious for the film to work.  His character later takes a turn that is a bit less surprising for the actor in terms of what he’s done recently, but he keeps his mute man subtle when needed, giving a performance that doesn’t actually need words to connect with the audience.  These are but two example of a strong cast working well together as allies and enemies, showing strength and talent all around.

The film works well because of its writing, directing, and acting, but also because of its attention to details.  This shows through the work of cinematographer Tom Comerford who frames and shoots each scene as to give the film an epic scope.  The scenes in the fog, in the rain, and in the forest are but examples of great cinematography by how beautiful they look, something that heightens their impact by making them visually beautiful.  Even violent scenes are shot in a way to make them look beautiful and let the viewer see what needs to be seen and hide what needs to remain a mystery.  Comerford’s work fits the story and the locations, but also elevates the film by captivating the audience.

Also adding to the atmosphere and acting is the music by Stephen McKeon which is subtle at times and much more impactful at others.  He uses soft cues and strong ones like they are meant to be used, to support the story and characters and not to overshadow them as happens far too often with epic films.  His approach lets the images take the lead and supports them as film scores should.  Adding to this music is work by the Crux Vocal Ensemble, a choice that adds to the religious aspect of the film with choir singing in the proper places.  Also, the sound design is fantastic, very detailed but not exaggerated, something many films of late have done, especially during battles and fights.  This film avoids those pitfalls and lets the story shine without deafening it in unnecessary sounds.

Pilgrimage is a Catholic story but it’s also a story of brotherhood and convictions.  Through strong performances and story, the film builds more than a simple mission across a land type of story, but one about the people involved and why they are involved.  The way the story is developed and the use of many languages pulls the viewer in and the action keeps them involved.  It’s a beautiful film with mystery and suspense, supported by a strong cast and great attention to details.