Gory medieval drama puts the 'grim' in 'Pilgrimage'

  • Erstwhile Spider-Man Tom Holland plays a novice monk during the 13th century in the violent "Pilgrimage."

    Erstwhile Spider-Man Tom Holland plays a novice monk during the 13th century in the violent "Pilgrimage."

Posted8/11/2017 6:00 AM

At the start of Brendan Muldowney's blood-soaked Irish religious drama "Pilgrimage," disbelievers in 55 A.D. stone to death a Christian martyr with such accurate headshots that pro baseball pitchers might be envious.

The ancient heavens turn dark and thunderous, suggesting that the martyr's death does not please almighty God.


Then ... that's it. The Lord offers no more celestial commentary or provides any visible signs of support for a group of Irish monks. They're on their own in a violent world, on a quest to deliver a sacred Christian relic to His Holiness in 1209 A.D. Rome.

Soldiers and monks get skewered, slashed, bashed and smashed, with the truly unfortunate ones subjected to a diabolical torture device that can't be described in a family newspaper.

"Pilgrimage" veers much closer to Paul Verhoeven's exploitative "Flesh + Blood" medieval epic than Jean-Jacques Annaud's religious mystery "Name of the Rose" that followed it a year later.

Here, a young Tom Holland doffs his Spider-Man togs and dons the garb of a monk-in-training named Brother Diarmuid, aka The Novice.

He becomes the default protagonist in "Pilgrimage," although Jon Bernthal's galvanizing performance as a guilt-stricken Crusades warrior who no longer speaks (hence his nickname, The Mute) provides the heart and soul of this gritty sword-and-sandal epic.

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Vague anti-Christian factions seek to steal the relic in screenwriter Jamie Hannigan's thin plot upon which he dangles many gory fights and action sequences.

"No one but the pure of heart can touch the relic and live," Brother Geraldus (French actor Stanley Weber) intones. "No one!"

We wait for this cryptic, Indiana Jones-like piece of foreshadowing to assert itself during a later moment with The Novice, but, like the divine heavenly rumblings earlier, nothing comes of it.

Cinematographer Tom Comerford's majestic, grandly composed widescreen Irish landscapes roil with mystery and beauty in a movie constructed of finely balanced visual details.

But the rest of "Pilgrimage" remains a relatively suspenseless, emotionally uninvested Christian tale rife with orchestrated bloodshed of the sort that HBO's "Game of Thrones" would reject for visceral quality assurance purposes.

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