When Val (Jill Paice) takes her teenaged son Cody (Jack DiFalco, "The Goldfinch") to work at the Adler’s farm, she’s concerned about him harming his voice with his ‘satanic’ heavy metal singing. But a few hours later she’ll get the type of call dreaded in farm country – Cody cannot reach his inhaler because he is entrapped and in danger of sinking in the corn “Silo.”
Laura's Review: B-
After hearing a piece on grain entrapment on NPR, cowriter (with Jason Williamson)/director Marshall Burnette, who grew up in Tennessee farm country, envisioned a movie that would highlight this danger set amidst the type of rural folk he grew up with. The film’s a great procedural on the complications of a grain entrapment rescue, a delicate engineering process which can go south quickly. But while Burnette’s created a wide variety of characters in his rural New Hope, it takes the better part of the film to figure out how they are interrelated.
Val, who appears to be a head nurse in a dementia ward, speaks to Junior Adler (Jim Parrack, 'True Blood's' Hoyt) about his dad when she drops off Cody. The elder Mr. Adler (Chris Ellis, "Apollo 13") believes his wife is still alive and Junior has his hands full trying to run a farm and keep an eye on the old man. This is the situation that will lead to tragedy, ironically because Val advises Junior to allow the old man to stay in the past.
While his best friend Lucha (Danny Ramirez, "Assassination Nation") is trying to convince him that his latest recording is the real deal, Cody and Lucha are called by Sutter (James DeForest Parker, "The Mule") to help out in one of the 50 foot silos. As Sutter and Cody stand inside, the height-phobic Lucha clinging to an interior ladder, Junior humors his dad outside about a ‘load for Stanley.’ Sutter disappears in an instant, swallowed by shifting corn, with Cody precariously close behind. Lucha’s screams for help alert Junior, whose 911 call is responded to first by the volunteer fire department.
Frank (Jeremy Holm, "The Ranger") shuts up shop and jumps right into action, securing Cody with a sling so that he won’t sink deeper, but when the Fire Chief arrives, a heated difference of opinion as to how to proceed is not just professional, but personal.
While this phenomenon has been used (a death in “Witness”) and hinted at (the kids hiding in “A Quiet Place”) in movies before, “Silo’s” press materials claim the film to be the first on the subject (we learn in closing credit titles that since grain entrapment accidents began being tracked in 1964, 1200 have lost their lives this way, 20% of them teenaged boys). Burnette does a great job building tension, Cody’s asthma adding urgency as Frank advises quick, shallow breaths so as not to allow his lungs to be crushed by the immense weight of the corn. Getting someone out of this situation is no easy task and we’re made privy to every consideration and step in the process.
But it takes forever to figure out the interpersonal relationships. Val’s obviously a single mom and initially her dropping Cody off with Junior might make one think Junior is her ex. Then her fury at Frank’s involvement might make us believe that Frank is her ex, except for the fact that Cody and his relationship is not that of father and son. (Eventually we do learn, via flashback, how these folk all fit together, but it shouldn’t require this much work.) Val and Mr. Adler’s dementia link is swiftly forgotten, nor do we ever learn what happened to Mrs. Adler, although her demise is mentioned as yet another farm country tragedy. Lucha’s utter devastation over his friend’s situation hints at something more than friendship, but nothing else does. The ensemble is solid, Rebecca Lines adding a connective calm as New Hope’s Sheriff, but after investing so much effort in getting to know all these people, the 77 minute film ends awfully abruptly.
The production, bookended by honeyed pastoral scenes, is largely concentrated within the Adler’s humble home and the towering silo. A scene where Junior drives the ‘sprayer’ Cody was proud of having driven the day before impresses with the dexterity required manipulating such an unwieldy piece of equipment. “Silo” is the type of regional filmmaking that used to be featured in the early days of Sundance, a small film with no big names but a lot of local flavor.
Robin's Review: C+
Life goes on as usual in a small Midwestern town, as does life on a local farm. While his workers attempt to clear a problem inside a 50 foot grain silo, the owner, Junior (Jim Parrack), distracted by his dementia-stricken dad, turns on the grain pump. One man dies because of his mistake and another, teenaged Cody (Jack DiFalco), is trapped and in deadly danger of being sucked into the quicksand of corn in the “Silo.”
This first feature film-on-a-small-budget, written and directed by Marshall Burnette, runs a scant 76 minutes, and while I am a huge fan of films being the shorter the better, this effort should have been longer. Beside the tense Cody’s-life-in-the-balance main story there are other major characters whose plot threads are not clearly explored, at least to me.
When things go wrong and Cody, an asthmatic, is trapped and squeezed by the massive pressure of the corn in the silo, the local volunteer fire chief, Frank (Jeremy Holm), arrives on the scene and the rescue effort begins. This straightforward save-the-boy tale would be fine, but its brevity also masks the lack of other character/story development.
There is something going on between the adult characters but the script fails to tell us what that is. It seems to involve Cody’s mother Val (Jill Paice), chief Frank and farmer Junior. But, any inkling of what appears to be a triangle of broken relations is never given any depth or definition. This I found to be a distraction from the rescue mission and its own palpable tensions.
First time feature writer/director had a decent idea with the main story and suitably ramps up the tension, but it is only half of the movie. The other half, involving Val, Frank and Junior, seems tacked on and goes unexplored. The rescue-the-trapped-man yarn does work, though.
Oscilloscope Labs opens “Silo” on 5/7/21 in theaters and virtual cinemas listed here.