In farm country, “We work in acres, not hours” lives are lived in small social circles on a big, underpopulated canvas. “Everybody knows everybody” is a double-edged sword, as people grow up with each other, remember failures and expectations harden into stone.
And a shrinking, aging workforce, beyond the reach of or exempted from OSHA protection, wrestles with bigger and more complex machines as “scale” becomes the only way to survive.
“Silo” is a quietly gripping “trouble in farm country” thriller wrapped in tragedy, a story of a “grain entrapment” in a corn storage silo. It’s a common occurrence wherever grain is farmed, weary old men or unwary young ones make one mistake, or a series of them, and often-futile hopes of help are the nearest volunteer fire department or another one in the next town over.
It’s a finely-detailed, sharply-observed drama from a team that made a documentary — “Silo: Edge of the Real World” — that provided their research. They’ve made a smart, layered and serious-minded melodrama where text, context and subtext collide.
Junior (Jim Parrack of “9-1-1 Lonestar” and “True Blood”) runs Adler Grain & Feed now. He’s 40ish, and took over for his aged father (Chris Ellis) who has dementia, who still lives at home. He’s got one experienced set of helping hands, and a couple of teenagers on the job, too.
Valerie (Broadway and TV actress Jill Paice) is a single-mom/nurse practitioner at the local nursing home. Her boy Cody (Jack DiFalco) dreams of heavy-metal glory, but works at Adler’s as farm jobs are all that New Hope offers to kids his age. His pal Lucha (Danny Ramirez) is also learning the ropes there.
When tragedy strikes, the last person Valerie wants to see is the convenience store owner and volunteer fire chief Frank (Jeremy Holm of “House of Cards” and “Mr. Robot”), the one man who might be able to save her son when the corn collapses around him inside a silo.
The text is the tragedy, the context is an “amber waves of grain” rural America that is emptying out, where the hard, righteous work of farming grows more dangerous by the year. And the subtext is this shrinking, aging populace, with nursing homes the only local growth industry and the only people available to grow and harvest the food are the green kids who can’t wait to get out.
Junior embodies the stoicism of an illusory sense of self-reliance. He can’t care for his father, doesn’t know where to turn for help and doesn’t really want to ask for it. Valerie’s one piece of experienced advice — “When he goes back to the past like that, let him stay there.” — is no more a solution than Junior’s declaration that “It is what it is.”
“Trust” is something Frank lost sometime back, and only the shortage of warm bodies could explain why anybody would leave him in charge of a tiny corps of first responders.
And the kids? They’re looking at the overwhelmed, weary adults, hearing a deputy mutter “I hope he ain’t drunk” when firefighter Frank shows up, and seeing a trap that isn’t limited to the on-the-job quicksand that will suck them down if any one thing goes wrong while they’re in the “Silo.”
Director Marshall Burnette maintains suspense, but is straightjacketed by the reality of such tragedies. Nothing happens fast in the boondocks. Firefighters with the proper gear are miles and miles away, real expertise is limited, but egos aren’t.
Farm belt integrity and honesty doesn’t include accepting blame when things go wrong, although the instinct to place blame is hard to fight, even among those you know well.
The acting here has a hardscrabble truth to it, with Parrack and Paice standing out.
There’s a lot to digest in this 77 minute thriller, and all this “waiting” for help leaves room for monologues that explain, calm or brace everybody involved against the harsh truths staring them in the face. They also slow it down.
But I love indie films that are “about something,” and “Silo” checks that box in several ways.
We’re pulled into the drama, moved by the melodrama and sobered by the subtexts that are right out there in the open, insights that give tragedies like this added meaning. These people aren’t just “those people,” and getting them help with the confluence of catastrophes descending on their lives will do more good than any lecture on how their politics aren’t exactly helping matters.
MPA Rating: unrated, some profanity
Cast: Jeremy Holm, Jill Paice, Jack DiFalco, Jim Parrack and Chris Ellis.
Credits: Directed by Marshall Burnette, script by Jason Williamson. An Oscilloscope Labs release (May 7).
Running time: 1:17