If you are like me, you may not know much about grain entrapment. This danger is unique to rural farmlands. Many people each year die this way. Director Marshall Burnette aims to bring awareness to audiences like me with his new film Silo. The film dramatizes a grain entrapment scenario with great detail. It works wonderfully as a procedural but things get muddier when the film focuses on its characters. While the film is full of good performances, the script takes too long to show us how these people are connected and the results vary in their emotional effectiveness.
The film opens with Cody (Jack DiFalco) singing over a heavy metal track he has written. His mother Val (Jill Paice) gives him a hard time about ruining his voice as she takes him to the Adler's farm to work. She heads into work and Cody gets his day started at the farm. We learn early on that Junior Adler (Jim Parrack) has his hands full. The farm is a lot of work and his father (Chris Ellis) is suffering from dementia. The sets up the tragic circumstances that end up killing one worker, Sutter, and trapping Cody in a grain silo. The circumstances are frightening as Sutter disappears into the corn instantly, leaving Cody alone and stuck.
A volunteer firefighter, Frank (Jeremy Holm), shows up first to help. He secured Cody with a sling to ensure he doesn't sink deeper. Sinking isn't the only concern here. The pressure from the weight of the corn is crushing Cody. Cody is asthmatic on top of everything else. This creates a great deal of tension for most of the film's scant 75-minute runtime. Burnette is clear-eyed in his realistic portrayal of this unique danger. We clearly see how difficult it is to save someone trapped in a silo. You can't simply pull them out due to the immense pressure of the corn.
While Silo is great when focused on the rescue, it loses focus when depicting the relationships of the people involved. It takes far too long to make sense of the various histories people have with each other and these relationships never add much to the film. We eventually learn via a flashback how all these people fit together but it causes unnecessary work to fit it all together and ultimately this takes away from the tension of the situation. Nothing really comes of Mr. Adler's dementia. It is hinted that something tragic happened to his wife but we never learn what. All of this is too much for the short runtime and by the end, I wished the film had stuck more to its procedural roots.
On a technical level, Silo excels. The cinematography is gorgeous, showing the rural landscape in all its beauty. The performances all work and there isn't a single weak link. The pacing keeps the tension up and the music is subtle and well-used. The film may not feature big names but you will likely recognize some of these actors. Silo has a great sense for the people and part of America it is depicting.
Silo missteps with its character development but don't let that deter you from seeking this fascinating and taught film. I learned a lot about something I knew very little about and will likely never look at a silo the same way.