Let's be honest. Silo was never going to be a multiplex kind of motion picture.
It could be the most compelling motion picture of the year and there's still only so many people who are going to pack themselves into a movie theater, in person or virtually, to spend just shy of an hour and a half of their time watching what is passionately billed as the first ever film about grain entrapment.
Silo, for the record, is not the most compelling motion picture of the year. It is, most certainly, a noble film inspired by a worthy and important story. The film, which is receiving Oscilloscope Laboratories' widest theatrical release ever with over 200 theaters, is even partially benefiting the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation.
Indeed, a noble cause and a wonderful organization to benefit.
I just wish Silo was a better film.
Despite its unique subject matter, or perhaps because of it, Silo could have actually been one of the most gripping and frightening stories of the year. I mean, seriously. Have you ever looked at one of those ginormous grain silos and thought to yourself just how frightening it would be to get stuck in one?
Welcome to Silo.
This isn't a horror film, but it is horrifying.
The story centers around 16-year-old Cody (Jack DiFalco), an asthmatic country boy in a small farm town who becomes the victim of a grain entrapment accident when his boss carelessly flips the grain silo's pipe not realizing he has employees inside.
One escapes. One does not.
Silo, even at a slight 77-minute running time, meanders its way through familial conflicts, smalltown politics, and a tapestry of messages including the dangerous of farming and the importance of farming community. It's a well intended film, of this there's no doubt, but it's a clunky message that seldom lands effectively and can't make its way through an ensemble cast that can't quite find the emotional resonance in a film that depends on it.
The exception is Jill Paice. Paice works wonders as Cody's mother Valerie, a nurse who drops Cody off on the way to work amidst a flurry of confusing relationships involving Junior Adler (Jim Parrack, True Blood), Mr. Adler (Chris Ellis, Apollo 13), Lucha (Danny Ramirez, Assassination Nation), and Sutter (James DeForest Parker, The Mule) as key players.
Paice's performance finds all the little nuances of smalltown life and parenthood and creates an emotional resonance often lacking in the rest of the film. There were little moments that just clicked, for example fleeting moments sitting in a car listening to music and likely using all the coping skills one typically uses as a nurse. Paice just absolutely rocks it.
Once the tragedy happens, Silo becomes a rescue film. Volunteer firefighter Frank (Jeremy Holm, The Ranger) leaps into action and quickly secures Cody but conflicts between he and the actual fire chief ensure that an already complicated rescue will become more complicated. I'm sure it was an intentional narrative decision, but the lack of clarity regarding relationships mutes emotional investment and by the time things are revealed it's a tad too late.
Silo is inspired by an NPR story on a real-life grain entrapment case from 2014 in Mount Carrol, Illinois. We learn in the film that 1200 Americans have lost their lives in grain entrapments since tracking began in 1964 - the majority of these have been teenaged boys. It's a tragedy and one has to admire Marshall Burnette's effort to capture the tragedy cinematically. While grain entrapment has been featured in films before, Silo is the first feature film to center its entire story around grain entrapment and this potentially tragic aspect of rural life in America.
An awful lot of indie films end up being the types of projects that we say to ourselves "That'll play well in the cities." In this case, Silo is a film likely to most resonate in those communities that can deeply identify with its storyline from the grain entrapment to the smalltown relationships to the little nuances of rural life captured here. Oscilloscope is an ideal home for this indie project. A longtime respected indie distributor with a heart for films that matter, their indie spirit can make sense of this material and market it in a way that will click with moviegoers. While Silo will undoubtedly have its naysayers, myself included, there's no doubt there's an audience for the film in much the same way faith-based flicks find their audiences.
This is a promising first feature effort for Burnette. With fleshing out of the secondary characters and greater clarity regarding their relationships, Silo could have been an emotionally resonant and thrilling motion picture. Instead, it's a rare Oscilloscope miss with a story that never clicks, performances that never quite gel, and a sense of drama it never really earns or lives into.
Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic