Miranda Otto will haunt you in your dreams after this.
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You’re going to want to add The Clearing to your watch list.
Based on J.P. Pomare’s bestselling novel In the Clearing, Hulu’s new eight-part psychological thriller tosses you into the nightmarish underbelly of a mysterious cult residing in Australia. Led by a ruthless matriarch known as Matriah (Miranda Otto), The Clearing’s cult — the “Kindred Mission” — aims to cultivate a perfect new generation of children, setting them on a path to supreme enlightenment by abducting them and forcing them to live in grueling conditions in a remote cabin.
The real evil rests in Matriah, who’s basically brainwashed the cult’s kids into believing she’s their biological mother as well as a Christlike figure who’s going to save them all. Matriah’s bleached all of the children’s hair to match hers, plus styled them all into the same bob, elevating the show’s horrific visuals in this fucked-up rendition of the Von Trapp family.
Alternating between past and present timelines, The Clearing’s hellish story is told through one of the cult’s survivors, Amy (Teresa Palmer). From her terrifying childhood to her trauma-defined adulthood, Amy strings the narrative together as she commences her quest to put an end to the cult once and for all. There are ample plot twists and surprises along the way, with The Clearing relishing in its questions more than its answers. The final product is an intense yet incredibly enticing thriller that’s easily binge-able on any evening. In the mood to be spooked and dive into a never-ending rabbit hole of unanswered questions and creepy cult lore? The Clearing is a must-see.
What is the real-life story behind The Clearing?
Pomare has noted(opens in a new tab) that his novel was inspired by the real-life case of The Family cult in Australia(opens in a new tab), which was founded in the 1960s. Arguably the country’s most notorious cult, The Family was essentially a doomsday group that believed in raising a select group of children to become future saviors after the world’s end. The Family abducted over 20 children, mainly through forged adoption papers, and indoctrinated them into their ways until police raided the cult in 1987.
The Clearing definitely draws inspiration from The Family; the kids have similar hairstyles and costumes to their real-life counterparts, and the Kindred Mission is similarly run by a woman. The show also incorporates similar methods of abduction and cult practices as The Family. However, The Clearing is a dramatized take and a work of fiction, so don’t expect a documentary on The Family or consistent parallels throughout the show.
The Clearing’s mystery is what makes the show great.
Any psychological thriller needs a mystery to keep its momentum going, and The Clearing offers a spider-web of secrecy you’ll desperately want to untangle. From the get-go, it’s clear that the show’s actual timeline of events and the cult’s ulterior motives aren’t going to become clear right away. Instead, The Clearing sprinkles clues throughout that only hint at what the actual hell is going on in both its past and present settings. And each episode ending with a cliff-hanger that’ll have you clicking “play next episode” before you even realize it.
From the three episodes made available to critics, it’s apparent that the show’s big questions surrounding its cult won’t be answered for some time, maybe even until the finale. In the meantime, there’s great detective fun in trying to answer what the Kindred Mission actually is, if Amy really escaped, and the status of all the other kids for yourself.
The Clearing is helmed by a stunning trio of actresses.
While there are great performances all around, The Clearing shines thanks to Otto’s performance of Matriah, Palmer as an adult Amy, and Julia Savage as a young Amy.
Otto is a piercing ice queen, marrying cruelty with a spotless smile and shamelessly unleashing her wrath at any given moment. In a performance so seamless it almost seems easy, Palmer manages to embody the struggles of PTSD and dips into territory that will tug at your heartstrings. Savage may be young, playing a 13-year-old in the show, but she’s an absolute force, bringing such an emotional gravitas to her performance that you can see Amy’s gears turning in real time as she grapples with the love she has for someone she’s realizing isn’t actually her mother.
Matriah’s relationship with Amy is the dynamic that grounds the show in both its past and present timelines. And Otto, Palmer, and Savage’s performances are so powerful, you’ll be hooked into every tug and pull between them.
While The Clearing may not dip into A24 territory, aka using cults to make larger analogies on the human experience à la Midsommar (well, at least not so far), it’s a pure, good ol’ thriller mixed with a teeny tiny bit of horror. Its performances are magnetic and tantalizingly terrifying, and the mystery shrouding its cult’s lore will have you hooked. The premise isn’t anything new, but it’s gripping all the same.
The Clearing premieres on Hulu May 24.(opens in a new tab)
Yasmeen Hamadeh is an Entertainment Intern at Mashable, covering everything about movies, TV, and the woes of being chronically online.
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