Despite an almost complete and total submersion into the world of horror and Halloween for the month of October, I do welcome the occasional break from guts and gore. This is what I expected when popping in the newly released Blu-ray of Pilgrimage. With a cast of action stars like Spiderman: Homecoming‘s Tom Holland, The Hobbit‘s Richard Armitage, and The Walking Dead‘s Jon Bernthal, I expected some big action. From the critical quotes on the box and in the press release, I figured there would be some violence and a spiritual struggle. What I didn’t expect was an opening scene that sent me right back into the bloody, gory horror realm.
When I think of the barbarism of ancient times, one of the most awful acts I can fathom is stoning someone for their perceived misdeeds. Not only is the very idea of throwing stones at someone until their death cruel and cringeworthy, but it was common practice, seen as no big deal. Thus, when I turned on this film, expecting somewhat of a reprieve from the viscera and scares I’d been subjecting myself to, only to find a man forced to stand still while others hurled stones and rocks of different shapes and sizes at his body, I was ill prepared. What’s more is that this man is literally being martyred, as his “crime” is that of belief in and devotion to the Christian God.
As an ancient relic of the Catholic church is being protected by a group of monks. Their sole task, outside of daily living duties, is to protect this relic. Within minutes of the conclusion of the bloodsoaked opening scene, it is revealed that the monks need to move the relic. We know from the onset that this looks to be an arduous journey and difficult task, but it proves more difficult than expected. Faith in God and faith in each other both become more essential than ever before, as the monks must fight beyond their own capabilities to defend the relic and to defend each themselves.
More blood, more guts, a warrior far more powerful than the enemies ever expected from a mere monk… this is how the film plays out. It’s not fast paced, but the battles are furious and the heaviness weighs upon both the monks and us, as the viewers. Prayer alone may not save them, but much prayer is needed. Prayer and Jon Bernthal… that’s the formula, it seems. Over and over, the question arises, however: “Will it be enough this time?” Can their warrior monk save them? Can he ensure their journey will be a success?
Fans of historical drama with violent action, ala Braveheart or Last of the Mohicans, should find in this film a powerful story rooted in a specific time and reality. While I appreciate aspects of such sprawling epics, I actually prefer this film to many such, as it takes that style and tone, but keeps it at a tighter 96 minute package. Moreover, the performances in this film, especially those of Bernthal and Holland, are among the best I’ve seen in this genre.
The long and the short of it is that the destination is often in the journey itself and what is deemed as a success in the eyes of men is not necessarily what is deemed as a success in the eyes of God. The journey the monks set upon isn’t necessarily the journey God had in mind. In life, it seems that this is a key to understanding where we fit spiritually and physically.
This film has deep themes to think on that are accented by incredible performances and striking violence. It’s a reminder that films like this can still be made and even done in a powerful way, with a modest budget. It’s not the type of film I tend to gravitate towards, but I am very happy it found its way to my doorstep.
Violent, powerful, and thought provoking, the type of film this world can always use more of. It may not have been quite the break in blood and guts that I’d previously expected, but it delivered all that I could have hoped.