dir Brendan Muldowney
scr Jamie Hannigan
prd Conor Barry, John Keville, Benoit Roland
with Tom Holland, Richard Armitage, Jon Bernthal, Stanley Weber, John Lynch, Hugh O'Conor, Ruaidhri Conroy, Tristan McConnell, Eric Godon, Donncha Crowley, Gaetan Wenders, Diarmuid de Faoite
release UK 3.Jul.17, US 11.Aug.17
17/Ireland 1h36
Holy men: Bernthal, Holland and Weber

armitage lynch oconor
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
Pilgrimage Creepy atmospherics abound in this account of a religious journey across a 13th century pagan landscape. Shot with a nice attention to detail, including a range of cultural beliefs and languages, the film is an entertaining mix of mysticism and hyper-violent battles. The over-serious religious mania ultimately gets a bit silly, but it's well enough made to hold the attention.

At an isolated monastery in 1209 Ireland, the monks are protecting an ancient Holy Land relic. In fear of encroaching infidels and heretics, the Pope has sent an emissary, Geraldus (Weber), to return the relic to Rome, accompanied by four monks - novice Diarmuid (Holland), herbalist Ciaran (Lynch), Cathal (O'Conor), Rua (Conroy) - and a devout, muscly mute (Bernthal). On the way, they encounter the French knight Raymond (Armitage), an aggressive nonbeliever whose soldiers provide protection from violent locals. But when things take a brutal turn, can he be trusted?

The film makes great use of its settings, especially the gloomy sky and dramatic coastlines of Ireland. Everything is infused by the intense spiritual beliefs of these men, interpreting a lightning strike as divine intervention, quavering at the sight of Celtic markings and respecting superstitions about fairies in the woods. It's a clever depiction, perhaps a little too infused with present-day scepticism, but that helps draw us into the story and situations.

Performances are effectively hushed, conveying a clever mix of faith and fear. Holland is solid at the centre as a naive young man with little experience of the outside world, but he's observant and brave, and also rather impetuous. Armitage reveals his dark side very early, so there's not much he can do with Raymond, who is caught between his compassionate father (Godon) and his more murderous urges. But Bernthal gets to add some unexpected texture to his enigmatic strongman, and Weber also adds some mercurial intrigue to his outsider.

In the end, this is more of a grisly action thriller than a dark exploration of faith, but at least the heavy religious overtones add unexpected layers of interest. It also helps that director Muldowney and cinematographer Tom Comerford develop such a vivid sense of the lush, misty Irish countryside, insinuating all kinds of shadowy secrets. That all of this is about a rock with a first century legend attached to it feels faintly ridiculous, but there's an enjoyable primal energy to the film that almost makes it a guilty pleasure.

cert 18 themes, violence 31.Jul.17

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© 2017 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall