Whilst most of the praised Irish produce of the past few years has been horror, Brendan Muldowney’s Pilgrimage provides an unforgiving trip into the rarer realm of British swords ‘n’ sandals adventure. The film follows a group of priests who leave the rural confines of their secluded abbey to escort a holy relic on a journey of religious importance.
Muldowney’s film is a self aware project wary of the droll pitfalls of period adventure, injecting it with a nice mix of lyrical beauty and gritty realism. For the most part. He doesn’t want Pilgrimage to come off as a muck and sandals affair, but nor does he want to film bogged down in heavy faith-based dialogue. The result is a quiet, considerate film with the boldness to tackle harsh realities of the medieval world.
The action sequences are surprisingly brutal. This isn’t the polished bloodless brand of sword-fare you’ve seen from Hollywood blockbusters, its a gritty, awkward, eviscerating kind of brutality that makes you wince. And that mucky violence is doled out to a band of characters, thinly constructed but expertly rendered by great talent.
Tom Holland (pre-Spiderman) plays a doe-eyed novice unused to the dark world of Roman occupation, whilst Irish talents like John Lynch (Black Death), Hugh O’Conor (The Fall), and Donncha Crowley (Without Name) lend lesser-seen but equally charismatic support. The Walking Dead and Daredevil star Jon Bernthal puts in a great turn as a mute working for the Abbey as penance for unremembered past crimes. The film’s only wobbly performance comes from Richard Armitage, here teetering on the brink of camp. He’s giving us Alan Rickman in Robin Hood, but Pilgrimage is not that kind of film.
Between the brutal deaths and cold unrelentingly oppressive approach to nature, there’s also a stunning use of landscape that verges on the epic. Cinematographer Tom Comerford achieves pitch perfect polar-opposite tones, whilst Muldowney orchestrates them into an atmospheric whole that thankfully never feels like a scenic advert. The result is a film with so much visual scope it looks far more accomplished and involving than its glossy counterparts.
Insurgency, power play, and graphic violence pepper the path of what could have been a slog. Much of that falls down to a talented cast of natives paired with some of the most scenic shooting at Edinburgh International Film Festival 2017.
Dir. Brendan Muldowney
Stars. Tom Holland, Richard Armitage, Jon Bernthal, John Lynch, Eric Godon