“Life sucks, get a helmet.” – Dennis Leary
In an age when motion pictures try to emotionally, and sometimes physically, batter the audience into submission, it’s nice to watch a quiet little film about real people living their real lives. It’s sort of a psychic palate cleanser. But it’s better if you’re watching them on either the best or worst day of those lives. Something still needs to actually happen in a movie, a reality which continues to elude so many pretentious arthouse flicks.
"I've got the brains. You've got the looks. Let's make lots of money."
“Silo” (2019) is one of those quiet little films. It’s a cinematic sprint through a tiny piece of flyover country on a day when not only everything that can go wrong does, but it’s the climax of a lot of things that have gone wrong for a long time. Valerie (Jill Paice) works at a small town nursing home, dealing with all the pressures and problems of being one of the last stops before death. Her son, Cody (Jack DiFalco), dreams of being a heavy metal star while Valerie worries about his focus on that “Satanist” music. Junior (Jim Parrack) is caught between running the family farm and watching his father slip further and further into dementia. Frank (Jeremy Holm) is the head of the local volunteer fire department who has fallen on hard times after an incident turned him into the town outcast. When Cody finds himself trapped in a silo on Junior’s farm being slowly crushed to death by a million pounds of corn, these people are forced to confront the underlying tragedies that have shaped their lives and brought them to where they are.
First and foremost, I want to credit “Silo” for being an honest-to-goodness film created by honest-to-goodness filmmakers. It’s not a visual theme park ride made by people who have more in common with architects than they do with actual storytellers. Not that I don’t enjoy a good trip on a rollercoaster but cinema can be so much more than that and frequently, in the 21st century, isn’t. “Silo” doesn’t just exist to pry the price of a ticket or a streaming purchase out of you. This movie has a purpose, both artistic and practical, and tries to connect with the audience on more than a superficial level. I can’t say it 100% succeeds but I greatly appreciate the attempt.
Only SLIGHTLY more dangerous than letting your kid play in the ball pit at a McDonald's.
The filmmakers also do a great job producing a low-budget motion picture that never looks or feels low-budget. Big Hollywood studios used to make more films about small town/rural America and “Silo” looks as good as any of them without presenting a phony, sterilized view of farm life. Everything is a little bit darker than it should be, as though everyone were still using kerosene lamps instead of electric light. It’s like one of those movies set in the modern South where everybody is still sweating all the time as if air conditioning was never invented. The shadowy conditions in “Silo” fit the subject matter and the movie’s themes but it does leave you wondering if this story was taking place during a solar eclipse.
The acting is uniformly good and the script gives these performers something to work with. The three main adult characters really feel like people who don’t realize how close they are to the end of their rope. And while he spends most of the film gasping for breath, Jack DiFalco does a nice job leading up to that as a kid with talent and ambition but who can’t really picture himself living out his own dreams. Danny Ramirez playing Cody’s friend Lucha is also quite good as a minor character who has to carry the emotional weight of the story for a brief time.
"Gloom, despair, and agony on me. Deep, dark depression, excessive misery. If it weren't for bad luck, I'd have no luck at all. Gloom, despair, and agony on me."
This movie embraces the truth that much of life is tragedy. None of us are getting out of here alive and even the most blessed among us either see things end too soon or face years of seeing everything important to us be taken away. But “Silo” doesn’t wallow in despair. There’s also joy and love and family, things that make life worth living and give meaning to even the harshest tragedy. Death and suffering aren’t plot devices here, designed to set up the next action scene or fancy monologue.
I can’t say “Silo” is perfect. It’s particularly hard to believe it when Valerie DOESN’T spend every second by the silo, waiting to see what happens with her son. Valerie deals with a lot of difficult emotions every day at her job, so you can understand her not falling to pieces over her son’s deadly predicament but when she actually walks away and has a calm conversation with another character, it seems kind of odd. All the plotlines and thematic elements of this motion picture also don’t get neatly wrapped up in a bow by the end, but that used to be standard in even great films because the idea is that you were watching a slice of life. Now movies only leave things unresolved in order to set up a sequel.
"Damn it! I missed the aliens again, didn't I? I told Bigfoot we had to get back to the farm but NO, he just had to have that 15th beer!"
I feel a little sorry for the folks who made “Silo.” It’s a decent piece of work that a few decades ago might have had a chance to catch with the moviegoing public. I don’t know if it would have. This isn’t some overlooked masterpiece. But in the time before time when there weren’t 200 channels on TV, 200,000 websites on the internet, and 200,000,000 hours of content on YouTube, it would at least had a chance. Now, films like this simply slip below the surface and are never seen again.
If you get a chance to watch “Silo,” take advantage of it. If nothing else, it will be a refreshing break before you spend the next decade watching another cycle of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Written by Marshall Burnette and Jason Williamson.
Directed by Marshall Burnette.
Starring Jeremy Holm, Jill Paice, Jack DiFalco, Jim Parrack, Chris Ellis, James DeForest Parker, Danny Ramirez, Daniel R. Hill, Reegus Flenory, Rebecca Lines, Erick Moth, Mike Seely, Emmalee Parker, Anthony Pineda, and Tiffany Smith.
You just know someone in Hollywood is going to see this and decide to do a remake of "Blue Velvet."