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Soundtrack review: Pilgrimage (Stephen McKeon – 2017)

Film scores

Soundtrack review: Pilgrimage (Stephen McKeon – 2017)



Set in 13th century Ireland and Starring Tom Holland (Spiderman) and Jon Bernthal (The Punisher) just before their casting into the world of Marvel movies, Pilgrimage tells the story of a group of monks who must escort a sacred relic across an Irish landscape fraught with peril. Stephen McKeon wrote the score.

With a story and setting like this I expect great things from this score. One of the elements I expected appears right in the first cue “Prologue: The relic” and that is the monks chants that softly and quietly open up a world of mystery. It’s an almost 80 minutes long score so the composer can take his time and setup the atmosphere with suspenseful and melodic motifs that highlight the vocal performances. He doesn’t rush his music and the base is solid. The choral work is poignant and excellent right from the start, be it the pious voices of monks, throat chants, an angelic female voice or warriors. I just love a score that is rich in choral pieces. The quiet and almost mystical sound of the first few cues does two thing: it firmly places the story in that distant 13th century and it evokes the religious, the faith element that is so important for “Pilgrimage”. I also like how the sound slowly builds up with “Crossfigil” as a next step with a more dramatic sound.

I expect the score to get louder because, afterall, it’s not all about religion. There is fighting involved and medieval times were harsh and dangerous. The eerie and mystical sound continues to reign even as the journey of the main characters goes on. Everything is low key, the voices are low and sombre, the brass is low, the strings are low and I keep waiting for an explosion, for a release. Even so I am enjoying the raw, almost barren tone of the music; after all, the director asked for “music composed only of skin, bone and iron”. As always on a score for a medieval movie, the presence of a female voice is the one glimmer of hope in those dark ages. As the score progresses the religious element gets stronger and takes me over; I love how the choir builds up in “The Clearing / In Timore Dei”. When the music does get more aggressive as in the “Un Mordha Arrack” cues it stays true and authentic to the medieval sound. Regardless of the story, there was little to no violence in the music.

The religious sound, quiet and sombre, dominated the composition and there were just a few bursts; the music is tense and poignant but at times, too contained. Maybe I was expecting some Celtic elements in the music as well but this is just nitpicking since I have a very soft spot for Irish traditional music. In the end, “Pilgrimage” is a deeply mystical and spiritual score and I appreciate the composer’s efforts to make it sound so honest and authentic.

Cue rating: 70 / 100

The Clearing / In Timore Dei
Epilogue: The Novice

Mihnea Manduteanu

I have been listening to film music for 25 years and writing about it since 2014. I've written over 1000 reviews and I can't imagine myself doing anything else. I am also a member of IFMCA (International Film Music Critics Association).

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