The Outer Limits: S2E06 “Cry of Silence”

A married couple are lost on a road trip. They pull over to check their maps when a truck races out of what should be their next turn. Their car instantly breaks down on a rock that wasn’t in the road before, and the wife rolls her ankle trying to get off the road. Then the tumbleweeds begin following their every move in the utterly silent canyon.

“Cry of Silence” is one of those sci-fi/horror properties I forgot existed until I pressed play on the episode. I’m pretty immune at this point to ridiculous concepts. I saw The Happening in theaters. I know what’s possible.

The big bad of the episode is signified first by sentient rocks, then sentient tumbleweeds. This is just the setup. Eddie Albert and June Havoc do their best to make this story make sense, but no amount of acting can cover for the killer tumbleweed story.

This is not a challenge limited to “Cry of Silence” or The Happening. There are many fantastic horror and science fiction stories dealing with sentient, reactive environments that work well on the page. Think Stephen King’s “In the Tall Grass,” Algernon Blackwood’s “The Willows,” or even Jeff VanderMeer’s Annihilation. Stories like these can struggle in screen adaptations because they force us to see a specific vision of how typically stationary plants and rocks and environmental features move.

From what I’ve seen, the screen versions of killer plants/environment stories tend to focus in on the violence. The first one to pop in my mind is Scott Smith’s own screen adaptation of his novel The Ruins.The killer vine novel is full of mystery regarding how and why the plants can do what they can. The film is filled with graphic depictions of exactly how the vines work right away. This creates two entirely different experiences out of what is mostly beat for beat the same story.

“Cry of Silence” does the same thing, albeit with far less overt violence. The episode quickly reveals the shaking, jumping motion of the tumbleweeds, leaving nothing to the imagination. Compare that to the season one episode “Specimen: Unknown,” where the alien plants with a deadly spore are shown to behave like normal plants until it’s seemingly too late to stop them. “Specimen: Unknown” leads with the mystery while “Cry of Silence” leads with the action.

There are some interesting story elements happening in “Cry of Silence.” There’s an expansive exploration of religion throughout the episode, specifically Christian narratives of creation and punishment. Whether the new abilities of the environment are a blessing or a plague is a matter debated throughout the story. Even the opening and closing narration riff on specific Bible verses.

And then you’ll hit a scene where rubber frogs are thrown at the actors until they lock themselves back inside a farmhouse and stop asking questions. This episode makes it hard to suspend disbelief.

Up next: S2E07 “The Invisible Enemy.”