“The kid is surrounded by unstable corn!” isn’t exactly the most intimidating phrase ever shouted by a desperate survival film’s character, but Silo keeps a straight face as it convincingly explains the dangers of grain entrapment. Yet, the danger is about all that’s convincing about it and, at just over an hour and stuffed with fluff, Silo feels like a PSA run amok—its central farming threat dragged down to the corny depths by its dramatic surroundings.
The root of the problem is that first-time feature director Marshall Burnette expanded his 11-minute 2017 short film Silo: Edge of the Real World into this, and I’m sure that it’s a far more intense and compelling experience at 11 minutes. Tacking on an additional hour of lightly sketched character work and panicky, silly tropes (stubborn authority figures refusing to listen to the people that know what’s going on; necessary information getting lost in a character’s insistent stammering) are telltale signs of a filmmaker in over his head.
But the premise still packs a decent punch. After an accident working on a farm run by Junior (Jim Parrack), the asthmatic Kodiak (Jack DiFalco) is stuck chest-deep in corn—the weight crushing his body while simultaneously threatening to engulf and ultimately suffocate him. A bad break to be sure, especially if you need an inhaler. It’s a terrifying scenario that sounds as uncinematic as 127 Hours’ premise of “Arm? Stuck Bad,” but one which Burnette and his cast manage to make sporadically entertaining. DiFalco is a worthy victim and even his palpable desperation is outshined by his friend Lucha (Danny Ramirez), whom Ramirez invests with a truly complex mix of guilt, shock and terror. The pair aren’t in the movie long—a terrible decision—but they make the most of their slight roles.
In fact, most of the actual activity inside the silo is decent: A familiarity with and respect for process (both in how an accident like that physically affects its victims and in the details of how they may be rescued) show that Burnette and his screenwriter Jason Williamson not only did their homework, but have a knack for translating what they learned. If only they stuck to their corn-covered guns.
Instead, because it’s not a particularly complicated situation, and it’s one with a tried and true solution, the film pads its ultra-brief 71 minutes with some really bad dialogue and a dementia subplot you’ve seen a million unfortunate times before. Junior sits down with Kodiak’s mom (Jill Paice), who talks with rescuer Frank (Jeremy Holm, whose over-the-top heavy breathing is a constant distraction)—every conversation complicated by soapy backstory detail that’s as aggravatingly predictable as these scenes themselves. The melancholy and danger of tradition and aging are gestured towards in such a facile way that it’s hard to keep your mind from wandering back to that kid stuck in all that corn. The accident development/meaningful chat rhythm surely attempts to build the film’s drama beyond its central incident, but it’s better at slurping down the entrapment’s excitement than the silo’s contents.
But even that’s not Silo’s most frustrating element. The film lacks a sense of scale, which undercuts even its most effectively scary moments inside the bin: There’s no claustrophobia inside, no farmland vastness outside. It’s alternatingly shot both too far and too close for its visual reality to sink in. On top of this, a golden tint permeates the proceedings, which gives the landscapes an old-timey rural feel but imbues the actual accident and its aftermath with an uncanny glow.
These formal gaffs keep the film’s decent moments from being certifiably good, but it’s the tired dramatic plotting, with so much character incompetence and inconsistency built into the script simply to keep the movie going—you know, the kind of thing that has you laughing at the screen alongside your baffled friends—that takes away basically any real-world power the film’s unique subject may otherwise have had. There’s a very scary, thrilling, insightful movie to be made about these kinds of accidents and the people they happen to. Silo isn’t it.
Director: Marshall Burnette
Writers: Jason Williamson, Marshall Burnette
Stars: Jeremy Holm, Jill Paice, Jack DiFalco, Jim Parrack, Chris Ellis, Danny Ramirez
Release Date: May 7, 2021
Jacob Oller is Movies Editor at Paste Magazine. You can follow him on Twitter at @jacoboller.
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