So it turns out you don’t have to spend a mountain of cash to make a compelling film.
“Pilgrimage,” in limited cinema release now and streaming via several on-demand platforms, takes place mostly in coastal Ireland in the year 1209. Monks entrusted with a holy relic receive a sudden visitor after His Holiness sends for it, then are sent out to see the treasure safely to Rome.
The “safely” bit doesn’t last long. The indie directed by Brendan Muldowney had an estimated budget of about $5 million, and it looks like they spent a good portion of that on fake blood and assorted innards.
“You take a lot on the chin when you do a movie with a small budget,” cast member Jon Bernthal told us during an interview. He was speaking literally: “Having no money and no time, there’s no stunt doubles. Everybody who’s involved with those fight scenes has to know what they’re doing. It adds a danger and vitality.”
His character is a strong and silent type – again, literally. He’s known only as The Mute, whose shadowy past might have featured a hitch in the Crusades (we’re up to Crusade 4.0, brought to you by Innocent III, at the time the movie is set). With his sacking and pillaging days behind him, the silent giant takes up with the rural monastery, putting his brawn to use toting water buckets and building things. Once the monks encounter Norman troops on the road to Rome, the Mute’s secular standing comes in really handy. Having taken no monastic vows, he can take up the sword without qualm.
“It’s a powerful movie,” Bernthal said. “It forces the audience to ask questions about the virtue of religion.”
This summer, he appeared in Atlanta-filmed “Baby Driver,” a $34 million picture that’s raked in more than $155 million so far. One of his “Pilgrimage” co-stars is Tom Holland, who plays a young monk whom the mute is particularly devoted to. Holland played the title role in Atlanta-filmed summer blockbuster “Spider-Man: Homecoming,” a Marvel project with a budget of $175 million and a $678 million take and counting at the box office.
Working on the much smaller “Pilgrimage” was a spiritual experience of sorts for Bernthal.
“I didn’t audition, which kind of scared me,” he said. “I thought that would be a unique challenge. I’m a big physical actor and I’ve always wanted to run toward the thing that scares me.”
In this case, it was silence. His character utters exactly one word yet communicates deeply.
“I remained silent on set and off,” he said. “I found it unbelievably informative about my own life. Shutting up for a few weeks and listening instead of talking, I gained an enormous amount.”
He chuckled in comparing the trappings of “Pilgrimage” to “Baby Driver,” the slick Edgar Wright-directed hit that starred Kevin Spacey as a conniving crime boss, Ansel Elgort as the getaway hotrod in his sway and Jon Hamm, Jamie Foxx, Eiza González and Bernthal as members of a ruthless bank-robbing crew. Despite the hours they’d spend in the car together each day of filming, stars would repair to their trailers via their own personal SUVs in between takes.
“I thought it was so ridiculous,” he mused.
With “Pilgrimage,” the cast traveled together, often on foot.
“Isolating ourselves like we did in western Ireland, instead of creating beautiful landscapes we hauled our (backsides) into it,” he said. “You just get closer. I was proud of the movie. I was proud of the relationships I made.”