Adventure Drama

'Pilgrimage' Film Review: An ambitious but lackluster historical drama

September 5, 2017Ferdosa Abdi

Pilgrimage is a haunting, beautiful and brutal historical drama directed with fervent intensity by Brendan Muldowney (Love Eternal and Savage). Still, audiences may be left wondering why they endured the daunting task of watching this movie in the first place.

The highlights of the film are the brilliant performances from Tom Holland and Jon Bernthal. The hyper-violent scenes leave you breathless, and the score is transformative. However, none of that aids the predictable and shallow story, which opens with a scene set in 55 A.D. Cappadocia, where we witness a brutal execution. It is a wordless and powerful scene that foreshadows what lies ahead. This 2-3 minute sequence will confirm whether or not you are interested in watching Pilgrimage, because what you see here is what you get throughout the rest of the movie.

Afterwards, the story then takes us to 13th century Ireland, during the Fourth Crusade, where a group of Irish monks are sent somewhat reluctantly on a pilgrimage to Rome, on a mission that may help the Crusaders win this holy war. In that premise alone you would picture a historical epic similar to Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ, Darren Aronofsky’s Noah or Ridley Scott’s Exodus: Gods and Kings. However, this is a low-budget film that struggles to carry a story that is truly too big for its running time and its relatively meager $5 million budget.

Muldowney focuses on a small, but crucial, event that takes place as Europe is changing drastically. Religion and politics have never been so closely entangled. He is able to capture the complex nature of politics, religion, faith and brotherhood during these trying times. By simply following a group of monks through the beautiful scenery of Ireland and the moments of gruesome violence, the audience is shown how miraculous and monstrous this world can be. Muldowney neither condemns nor supports these monks and their mission; he is simply laying out the complexities of their world, and it is up to viewers to interpret things however they see fit.

Although it is a low-budget movie, Muldowney is able to tackle these big ideas in a compelling way, but the whole enterprise does suffer due to the lack of scope. The monks are one part of a greater story, and one must wonder if this particular story would have been better served with a bigger budget and a longer running time. However, it is still an intriguing film to watch, and the lack of scope does not encompass all that is wrong with it. Pilgrimage also suffers from a lackluster script from screenwriter Jamie Hannigan, as well as pacing that is entirely too slow.

Holland and Bernthal are amazing, but they are the only two members of the cast who are able to summon any emotion from this dull and emotionless script. The other actors all have the same monotonous tone and are devoid of any personality. Suffice to say, a lot of work seems to have gone into creating the movie's tone and atmosphere, and bringing attention to some compelling context; however, the story is poorly conceived and executed. Although it is ambitious for such a low-budget effort, Pilgrimage falls short of the grand ideas it tries to present.

Pilgrimage releases September 5th, 2017 from Search Engine Films. The film has an OFRB rating of 18A for brutal violence, gory scenes and disturbing content. Its runtime is 1 hr. 36 min.

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