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OPINION | REVIEW: 'Silo'

by Philip Martin | May 7, 2021 at 1:35 a.m.
Would-be heavy metal singer Cody (Jack DiFalco) is trapped in an unstable column of corn that threatens to crush his lungs in “Silo,” a small-scale rescue procedural based on a true story.

I should probably stop trying to make "plausible horror" happen. Still, it's a reasonable movie genre, a kind of catch-all for terrifying films based on events that aren't out of the ordinary.

Florian Zeller's "The Father" is a plausible horror film because you could get dementia. Ira Sachs' "Love Is Strange" (2014) is a plausible horror movie because you could make financial miscalculations and end up homeless. And "Silo" is a plausible horror film because, you could, I guess, get trapped in a grain silo.

Inspiration for the film comes from 2014 National Public Radio story on grain entrapment by Howard Berkes, which, according to the film's end credits, have claimed 1,200 lives since 1964 (20% of those causalities they say are teenage boys, which seems low; I would not expect women in general or men who have attained majority to spend that much time mucking around in grain silos).

The film's website claims it is the first feature film ever about grain entrapment, which I have no reason to doubt, though I believe I only know about grain entrapment because of movies. "Witness" (1985) killed off a character by having him buried under a ton of corn in a silo, and the finale of 1971 French crime thriller "Le casse" ("The Burglars"), which included Jean-Paul Belmondo, Omar Sharif and Dyan Cannon in its cast, featured a man being smothered to death in a grain elevator. And I believe, but can find no online confirmation, that one episode of the '60s "Batman" television series had the dynamic duo imperiled in a silo. (And co-worker Joe Riddle remembers William Holden's escape from the cops in "Picnic." He opens a huge hose that spills tons of grain on the cops and gets away clean.)

The grain elevator as an instrument of death has not become a movie trope; when Googling "grain elevators in the movies" the first two hits were "Grain Elevator," a 16-minute documentary short produced by National Film Board of Canada in 1981 and a discussion of how, in Canada, movies are sometimes projected on the sides of rectangular grain elevators (which are not exactly the same thing as silos, which are round and tall like castle turrets).

And when I Googled "silos in the movie," all the top hits were about the film under consideration.

Which is, despite the fun I'm having at its expense, a taut and tension-ratcheting thriller about 18-year-old Cody (Jack DiFalco), who becomes trapped in a corn silo.

Cody is a heavy metal kid who, along with his bud Lucha (Danny Ramirez), works for part-time farmer Junior Alder (Jim Parrack, "True Blood") because there are few other options in the rural Midwest.

Junior's trying to hold things together, running his feed store while looking after his father (the always welcome character actor Chris Ellis) who's suffering from dementia. Cody's single mom Valerie (Jill Paice) is a nurse practitioner at a local nursing home who seems to have a past with both Junior and volunteer fire chief Frank (Jeremy Holm, "House of Cards"), a drunken husk of a man who seems more at home behind the counter of his convenience store than leading an effort to rescue Cody.

While the movie might leave us wondering about the precise dynamics between these small-town folk, it is sufficient that we understand they really know each other in the ways that people who have lived in proximity all their lives can. When Frank arrives on the scene, a cop mutters under his breath that he hopes "he ain't drunk."

They remember each other's moments of weakness and turn out for each other anyway.

"Silo" is an odd film; on the one hand it seems determined to serve as a public service announcement, alerting us to the risks routinely faced by agricultural workers. And on the other hand it feels like a tone poem grimly eulogizing a dying America populated by lonely people with thwarted dreams, suffocating in the wide open of the heartland.

It doesn't quite succeed as prairie opera -- it's more late-model John Mellencamp -- but director Marshall Burnette knows how to build tension, and the procedural aspects of the rescue attempt are fascinating. All the actors acquit themselves well, but at 77 minutes the film feels truncated and abrupt, with too much explained in the closing minutes.

But that's a quibble. "Silo" is a wonderful example of regional filmmaking, the sort of small, handmade film that seemed everywhere in the early 1990s. It might speak most eloquently to people who recognize themselves in its characters, but maybe that's most of us.

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‘Silo’

86 Cast: Jeremy Holm, Jill Paice, Jack DiFalco, Jim Parrack, Chris Ellis

Director: Marshall Burnette

Rating: Not rated

Running time: 1 hour, 17 minutes

Playing theatrically

Lucha (Danny Ramirez) and Cody (Jack DiFalco) are inexperienced teenagers working on a midwestern farm in the independent film “Silo.”
Lucha (Danny Ramirez) and Cody (Jack DiFalco) are inexperienced teenagers working on a midwestern farm in the independent film “Silo.”
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