Pilgrimage Blu-ray Review

Tom Holland Joins The Crusades Guarding A Holy Relic

Belief and devotion to the Catholic Church and the faith in the Crusades is expertly examined in Pilgrimage. Starring Tom Holland (Spider-Man: Homecoming) and Jon Bernthal (The Punisher, The Walking Dead), Irish monks in the 13th Century travel make a dangerous trek carrying a holy relic to Rome on orders from the Vatican. Along the way their faith, devotion and morals will be tested by savage local tribes, Norman soldiers, and even fellow Christians. Director Brendan Muldowney (Love Eternal) has crafted a powerful film that is superbly acted and tensely plotted. If the subject of the Crusades interest you in the slightest, Pilgrimage is fantastic stuff.

From its first moments Pilgrimage makes a stark statement. The movie opens in 55 AD as Saint Matthias is brutally stoned to death by a crowd, his head graphically smashed in by a large rock. The bleak opener sets the tone for the rest of the religiously themed Pilgrimage. Skip ahead to Ireland in 1209 AD and a small group of Irish monks guarding a mysterious holy relic believed to have vast powers when used in battle. As the Catholic Church loses ground in the Crusades, it’s believed the relic’s power might help their cause.

It is the monk’s mission to transport this relic to its rightful home in Rome. That means crossing the treacherous roads to the East coast, where they are in danger of brutal death at the hands of tribal rivals and Norman invaders. One of the young monks making this perilous pilgrimage is a novice monk in training named Brother Diarmuid (Tom Holland). The monks are closely aided by a mute lay-brother (Jon Bernthal) that remains nameless.

There are suspenseful twists and intense action scenes effectively woven into its plot

While their faith drives the monks on this dangerous pilgrimage in service to the Crusades, the powerful lore surrounding the relic they carry will begin to drive them apart. They are led on this journey by Geraldus (Stanley Weber), a deeply religious man that zealously believes in the Church as the final authority on everything. He will do anything in his power safeguarding the relic’s journey to Rome, including making unsavory deals with Norman soldiers for protection. The monks meet Sir Raymond (Richard Armitage), a high-ranking Norman soldier that takes his Christianity with a grain of salt. Raymond covets power more than anything else.

You would be wrong in thinking that Pilgrimage is a slowly paced religious drama. The taut narrative carefully layers the dangerous elements fighting over the relic before it becomes an all-out fight for survival by the monks. There are suspenseful twists and intense action scenes effectively woven into its plot. The battles are swift and brutal with stunning fight choreography.

The story is seen through the young eyes of Diarmuid. The young man must find surprising courage when faced with deadly challenges that will push his body and spirit. Tom Holland is simply wonderful in the role. His dramatic acting display here confirms why Sony picked him to be the current Spider-Man. Jon Bernthal apparently read Pilgrimage’s script and demanded to be in the film. His portrayal of the mute servant to the monks is a critical piece in making the film work so fluidly.

The bleak journey made by the monks in Pilgrimage give its characters the proper atmosphere to ponder the movie’s deeper questions. This is a beautifully made movie in every phase of the production, from its gritty depictions of 13th Century Ireland to its foreboding orchestral score. Taking a look at the inherent moral conflicts of the Crusades on Christian believers in Europe, Pilgrimage is a shockingly thoughtful character-driven film that never places moralizing over storytelling. That makes its themes resonant even more when considering its issues of faith, absolution and piety.

Video

Pilgrimage’s outstanding cinematography takes full advantage of shooting in the coastal landscapes of Ireland and Belgium. This sharp Blu-ray presentation has a muted palette but exudes depth and dimension. The nearly perfect clarity offers appreciable levels of detail and texture in pristine imagery as the monks make their pilgrimage delivering the holy relic.

The black levels are consistent, finely reproducing shadow delineation and pure black when needed. The 1080P video has been transferred without flaw. While the lack of a deeply saturated palette reduces its visual pop, Pilgrimage has a top-notch videophile transfer.

The 95-minute main feature is encoded in AVC on a BD-25. Averaging around 21 Mbps, it’s an efficient compression job that cleanly replicates the movie’s full texture, outside of a little fog that introduces mosquito noise. Pilgrimage is shown at its native 2.39:1 aspect ratio. The scope cinematography often takes advantage of the wider frame with excellent panoramic compositions. Set in a grim world, the dark palette fits the foreboding tone of Pilgrimage.

Audio

Pilgrimage’s audio is impressively mastered in a wide-open, active 5.1 DTS-HD MA soundtrack. The exceptionally immersive surround mix has bone-crunching LFE and crystal-clear channel separation that engages the listener from every angle. Even in quieter moments, the sound design is bristling with activity in perfect fidelity. A mixture of four languages are heard in Pilgrimage. Bits of Latin, Irish, French and primarily English dialogue are intelligibly placed in the soundstage with fine dynamics and crisp clarity. There are burnt-in subtitles for the non-English dialogue.

The Irish-Belgian co-production has outstanding production values for a film made outside the Hollywood studio system and its audio presentation is first-class in every regard. Composer Stephen McKeon’s haunting, moody score is a showy affair that drives the thumping battle scenes with vigor.

Optional English SDH subtitles play in a white font, always inside the 2.39:1 aspect ratio.

Extras

RLJ Entertainment (formerly known as Image Entertainment) brings five fairly interesting behind-the-scenes featurettes to the plate for this Blu-ray and DVD combo release. Most importantly, the lead cast members make their requisite appearances in interviews, including leads Jon Bernthal and current Spider-Man actor Tom Holland. The only thing really missing is a commentary from the writer and/or director, both of whom appear in interview clips.

An embossed slipcover is available for collectors on most pressings.

The Making of Pilgrimage (11:06 in HD) – Writer Jamie Hannigan (Two Point Five Billion) and director Brendan Muldowney (Love Eternal) are included in this excellent behind-the-scenes documentary that also includes footage from the set. Several primary cast members get interviewed, giving their thoughts on the story and setting.

The Dance of War: The Fight Choreography of Pilgrimage (02:10 in HD) – The stunt coordinator briefly gets interviewed as we learn there were no stunt doubles used for the lead cast members. He relied on the prior sword-fighting and boxing skills of Jon Bernthal and Richard Armitage in developing their fighting styles for combat.

Building An Army: The Visual and Make-Up Effects of Pilgrimage (02:51 in HD) – The VFX supervisor describes how the Norman camp was greatly enhanced in size with digital trickery.

Sounds From the Past: The Language and Music of Pilgrimage (03:02 in HD) – Four different languages are spoken throughout the movie and Tom Holland relates how it was important to him to get the Gaelic dialogue correct.

Setting the Scene: The Locations of Pilgrimage (01:57 in HD) – A quick recap of the stunning location photography in Ireland and how it affected certain cast members in their scenes.

Photo Gallery (HD)

Poster Gallery (HD)

RLJ Entertainment Trailers (All in HD) – Three trailers precede the main menu, all skippable by remote. Bushwick (02:11 in HD), Bone Tomahawk (02:37), and The Colony (02:18).

The unaltered images below are taken from the Blu-ray itself. For additional Pilgrimage screenshots, early access to all screens (plus the 7,000+ already in our library), exclusive UHD reviews, and more, support us on Patreon.