With streaming regulation in place by 2024, local subscription platforms have stepped into the forefront of producing Australian content.
Disney+ arrived in Australia in 2019 but it took until 2023 to finally unveil its first local drama, one of the last to do so.
Luckily, The clearing is a high-octane start, an 8-part psychological thriller centered around a cult known as The Kindred and starring some notable actors.
Based on the novel In the Glade by JP Pomare, the series advises while inspired by real life, all characters and incidents are fictional. With her platinum-blonde children who look like they’ve just come out The children of the damnedit is not difficult to process the source material.
Leading this cult is Adrienne (Miranda Otto) in what appears to be the 1990s in a bush commune, probably east of Melbourne (there are shots of locations that look like the Dandenongs / Yarra Valley and Eildon areas). She is an enigmatic and feared leader known to her dozen of her children as “Mummy”. But in The clearingshe is not the central character.
Freya (Teresa Palmer), a single mum, is raising her young son Billy (Flynn Wandin), but her fears are heightened when a little girl, Sara (Lily La Torre), is reported missing by the local town. Freya is paranoid, the kidnappers will come after her for her son. It is clear that she knows something, but what …?
Meanwhile Sara has in fact been kidnapped from a white van and taken to the cult in an attempt to reprogram her as Asha, complete with hair dye. It falls to young teenager Amy (Julia Savage) to coach her in group discipline, exercise, religious practice, and perpetual submission to “Mummy” and her associate aunts (Kate Mulvaney, Anna Lise Phillips).
But Sara’s kidnapping attracted media and police attention with a local detective (Hazem Shammas) sniffing around, causing the group’s doctor (Guy Pearce) to fear they were now in grave danger.
“You put relatives in grave danger…. you will answer Matrea about what you did, ”she warns.
Screenwriters Matt Cameron and Elise McCredie play with the timelines of this tale, delicately woven by director Jeffery Walker (Lambs of God, Jack Irish, Riot, Modern Family, Young Rock) in a haunting and uncomfortably cold environment. The cinematography makes much of its bodies of water, especially with Eildon’s dead trees sticking out of the lake water and the dark forest setting where almost anything could happen…
In fact, there are beatings, drugs and children locked up for hours in dark rooms. With their smiling faces, you’ve never shivered so much at kids singing The Seekers “A World of Our Own.”
Of the performances it is young Julia Savage who steals the show, with a blank canvas face and subtle emotions that remind me of Essie Davis. Miranda Otto is sweet as the cult leader who kills her lambs with mock affection while her more devious Aunt Tamsin (Kate Mulvaney) is stealing Social Security checks on behalf of the children.
“Do you want to raise Amy?…. You are heir to all that is mine,” Adrienne smiles at Amy.
Other casts will include Erroll Shand, Claudia Karvan, Mark Coles Smith, Doris Younane and Xavier Samuel.
So many dramas center around missing children… Top of the Lake, Kettering, The Missing, Stranger Things, The Cry, Hollington Drive, Dark, Safe…protection and nurture are such basic instincts, it’s as if failure is a snapshot of the state of a society. As a narrative, you can navigate all the twists and turns that interest you, but ultimately only one outcome will be satisfying.
Among genre hits, The clearing find good company, as Disney+ finally makes a mark in Australia.
The Clearing premieres Wednesday on Star/Disney+