‘They’ say a lot of stupid things.
The After School Special vibe at the back of Marshall Burnette‘s Silo isn’t a bug. It’s a feature. Because beyond creating a captivatingly suspenseful premise with which to build a plot, grain entrapment is a significant enough issue to demand a path towards awareness as much as cinematic entertainment. As the text that appears right before the end credits states: one person has been victim to such incidents approximately every fifteen days since the 1960s. That’s a crazy stat and yet those of us who’ve never set foot on a farm would still be ignorant to it without a piece like this to bring it to our attention. For us the nightmare is an abstract fluke. To those like the characters on-screen, it’s a sobering reality.
While it’s one thing to imagine terror at night resulting from some unknowable or unbelievable supernatural monster, it’s another to know the fate of young Cody (Jack DiFalco) is something everyone working around grain silos understands as a risk if not the cautionary tale of someone close. We think everything will be fine as he, Sutter (James DeForest Parker), and Lucha (Danny Ramirez) walk out onto the surface of a half-filled cylinder of corn because they’re laughing and talking and doing what they’ve done many times before. The instant we hear the mechanical whirr and recognize that the floor has altered from solid to sand, however, we understand how dangerous this job that so many of us take for granted truly is. And we dread what’s next.
Burnette and screenwriter Jason Williamson have crafted this taut seventy-five-minute thriller from real life accounts of how it happens, why it’s possible, and the protocols in place that have sadly proven unlucky in more than half the entrapment cases that have occurred the past half century in America. Whereas most disaster films (because that’s ostensibly what this is as far as the rescue mission genre goes) have ample time to introduce their characters, the low budget nature of this production and the fate-fueled “Hand of God” messaging that demand there be no clear-cut notion of “blame” means corners have to be cut. Rather than provide context through exposition, the filmmakers must instead do it on the fly via quick jolts of melodrama pushing into the centerpiece tragedy’s orbit.
That means injecting other details of rural American life from alcoholism, small town familiarity, jurisdictional feuding, and mental health. It means drawing these lives as a struggle from start to finish—the kind that wouldn’t necessarily change by removing this specific incident. Between Cody using this farm job as an escape from a reality that sees him fatherless and unappreciated by his over-worked mother (Jill Paice‘s Valerie) and his boss Junior (Jim Parrack) barely having the time to keep things running when he must maintain a vigilant eye on his dementia-ridden father (Chris Ellis‘ Mr. Adler), this current predicament may actually end up some way to get them to open their eyes and acknowledge the pain they’ve been trying to stubbornly push through (to their detriment).
Talk about a sobering thought: one unfathomable accident becoming a galvanizing moment to confront the countless other unfathomable accidents that have rocked these people’s lives for years. And just like Sheriff Baxter (Rebecca Lines), they all still hold steadfast to the idea that God has put them through the wringer for this reason and thus should appreciate the suffering as a sign of their survival rather than a punishment for some unworthy or non-existent transgression. Because even if there are deaths involved, it’s still an accident. And if you can’t point your finger at someone to hold them account, why not point at someone else and challenge them to find redemption? Every horror holds the potential for hope. Every hardship possesses the room to learn and ultimately grow.
Does that sound preachy? Just because the After School Special vibe is a feature and not a bug doesn’t mean it somehow avoids its inevitable sense of educational morality. With so little time available for these characters as far as motivation goes, who they are and what they are living through becomes the only impulse they have to act. Junior can’t therefore stop himself from wanting to protect someone he loves from the devastation of personal blame even if he knows the truth isn’t his to hide. And Frank (Jeremy Holm) can neither wallow in the self-pity of failing to save someone before nor over-compensate with an increased enthusiasm to become the hero now when his job as a volunteer firefighter demands this be about Cody, not himself.
For a film focused on the harrowing circumstances that surround an asthmatic teen being slowly crushed under the physics of quicksand corn, Burnette and Williamson must be given credit for how they are able to remove themselves from that spectacle to introspectively touch on the fears of those watching it unfold. They allow their characters to flirt with the complexity of unwitting complicity because this environment can’t afford to keep everyone separate. One person’s demise causes widespread rifts that compromise lives. One tainted crop starves the community. One person’s decision to leave another drowning in order to call for better help can prove more heroic that staying to watch them go. Life is a game of inches and each one counts more than you’ll ever know.
And if you hold onto that lesson while watching Silo, I think you’ll enjoy your time with it despite any over-indulgent utilization of heightened emotional turmoil for narrative convenience. Its success isn’t therefore a product of its interconnectedness, it exists in spite of it for those willing to go along for the ride. Because we don’t ultimately care about Frank or Valerie. We understand their plight and their history, but it’s all a bit of an afterthought when compared to Cody and the logistics of keeping him alive. If them being forced together now means bridges can start to mend—that’s great. Forgive, forget, and make lemonade from life’s lemons. A little subtlety where those parables are concerned would have been nice, but they’re effective just the same.
courtesy of Oscilloscope