Grade: C/C+
Entire family: No
2017, 96 min., Color
RLJ Entertainment
Not rated (Would be R for violence)
Aspect ratio: 2.35:1
Featured audio: DTS-HDMA 5.1
Bonus features: C+
Includes: Blu-ray, DVD
Amazon link

Pilgrimage is an average movie with above-average atmosphere and cinematography, thanks largely to the Irish landscapes where it was mostly filmed. It’s also a movie that plods along into eye-rolling territory until, suddenly, there’s a burst of violent (some would call it ultra-violent) action. Though it’s billed as a medieval thriller, this Jekyll-Hyde movie lurches between tedium and frenetic action, while viewers may well wish that the filmmakers had opted for some sort of happy medium.

The plot is simple: an emissary from Rome shows up at an Irish monastery in remote Western Ireland with instructions to take a holy relic back to the Pope, who believes it has enough power to end the Crusades. An opening scene showed just how that relic came to become “holy”: it was the large rock that ended the life of a Christian martyr who was being stoned for his beliefs. Fast-forward to 1202 A.D. and Brother Geraldus (Stanley Weber) shows up in a white robe asking for the relic.

Tom Holland stars as the youngest monk, Diarmuid, who accompanies a small group of fellow monks on the journey to serve as protection—though, really, only a ginormous mute (Jon Bernthal) has any real potential to fend off barbarians who might attack them along the way. As it turns out, there are wild brigands they have to deal with, as well as the well-armed and armored Normans, who think to grab the relic and use it for political leverage against the Pope.

The plot itself is so straightforward and uncomplicated that we look to character to flesh out or define the film. But, alas, we don’t really learn much about the characters, who seem driven by the simple plot rather than the other way around. With so many monks onboard there’s surprisingly little room for reflection or inner conflicts. What makes the film watchable is the atmosphere itself, which is rendered in such wide brushstrokes that it might remind older viewers of the old Hammer films. And the cinematography really helps to sell the brooding, Dark Ages atmosphere. It gives the film a feeling that creates a kind of substitute tension.

Beyond that, there’s not much to say about Pilgrimage because it is so straightforward and uncomplicated. Either the atmosphere and cinematography will captivate you so much that you’ll buy into the bare-bones “thriller” structure, or you’ll feel as our family did: that the long periods of trekking along without any compelling character-driven sideplots can feel tedious, while the sudden outbursts of action never seem quite enough to make the journey that director Brendan Muldowney takes us on fully satisfying.

Language: Nothing of consequence
Sex: Nothing here either—they’re monks, afterall
Violence: Game of Thrones level violence, extreme and graphic, including severed limbs, heads being skewered, plenty of blood, and a torture tool used to rip out entrails
Adult situations: Nothing more—just the violence
Takeaway: This film might be a curiosity for Spider-Man fans who want to see Holland in something else, the way Bond fans gravitated toward The Name of the Rose, but the average viewer may find it slow (and fast) and slow (and fast) going