‘Silo’ Review: When Life on a Farm Is Far From Wholesome

A mainstay of American agriculture, corn can become a suffocating trap when a human comes up against tons of it in a vertical storage bin.

By Ben Kenigsberg

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The terror of certain life-threatening situations is tough to translate to the screen. One of these is what a dispatcher in “Silo” calls a grain engulfment. Here, it happens when a teenage farmworker, Cody (Jack DiFalco), is sent into a multistory silo to break up clumps of corn. Someone negligently activates the machinery, and Cody becomes marooned in a quicksand-like rush of corn. Any movement might cause him to sink below the surface. And any effort to extract him must account for the forces exerted by 1.5 million pounds of corn.

The scenario is a real one; statistics at the end cite how frequent and deadly these entrapments are. Building a movie around Cody’s peril requires an approach that makes every creak of metal or shift in grain suspenseful to viewers. For Cody, being unable to budge, reach his inhaler or see the rescue efforts is petrifying. But the director, Marshall Burnette, doesn’t stick to Cody’s perspective. Every time he cuts beyond the silo, the tension is lost.

Burnette’s feature debut, “Silo” is based on a story he devised from news coverage. Jason Williamson wrote the screenplay.

If Burnette’s formal instincts are suboptimal — the pervasive backlighting and underlighting keep much of the action in shadow — his dramatic instincts are worse. Cody’s mother (Jill Paice) curses fate for entrusting her son’s life to Frank (Jeremy Holm), the volunteer fire chief, the person she holds responsible for Cody’s father’s death in a car accident. The cast also struggles to capture the urgency. Few actors could convincingly engage in an angry dispute about the best way to rescue a kid “surrounded by unstable corn.”

Silo
Not rated. Running time: 1 hour 16 minutes. In theaters and on virtual cinemas. Please consult the guidelines outlined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention before watching movies inside theaters.

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