The Clearing Season 1 Review – A Solid Little Psychological Thriller

By Ricky Valero
Published: May 23, 2023 (Last updated: last month)
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The Clearing Season 1 Review
The Clearing Season 1 (Credit - Hulu)


Miranda Otto delivers a chilling performance as The Clearing is a decent thriller that will keep you guessing.

The Clearing is a psychological thriller based on J.P. Pomare’s book In the Clearing, which was inspired by an Australian cult. The eight-episode series stars Teresa Palmer in the lead role as Freya, Miranda Otto playing the cult leader Matriah, and Guy Pearce playing Dr. Bryce Latham.

The Clearing Season 1 Review and Plot Summary

The Clearing follows a woman who is forced to face the nightmares of her past in order to stop a cult from gathering children to fulfill its big plan.

The show begins with a kidnapping that leads us to meet The Kindred. It’s a cult of well-mannered children with these blonde bob haircuts that introduce themselves to their new sister. The group is led by their “Mother,” Matriah, who has this hold over them that instills God-like fear in them. Even with a simple look, they are terrified.

The Clearing is told from the perspective of Freya, one of the little girls The Kindred kidnapped. Freya relives her past with The Kindred after a kidnapping in her home city causes her to suffer from PTSD.

As a result, we witness the trauma she endured as a kid and how it had a ripple effect on her to be so protective of her son Billy. Her battle with the past isn’t over, as she still has a relationship with Matriah.

The Clearing is inspired by real-life events of what went down in the 1960s with a cult called The Family that kidnapped children and raised them to believe they were Jesus’s Apostles.

That cult was run by Anne Hamilton-Byrne, who made those around her think she was a reincarnation of Jesus Christ. Our Anne Hamilton-Byrne was in the form of Matriah, who Miranda Otto played.

Otto has been acting for well over thirty years, so it shouldn’t come to much of a surprise that her conniving, haunting turn as Matriah is pitch-perfect. She gives the kind of performance that will certainly scare the viewers. If Matriah looked me in the eye and told me to do something, I would do it without hesitation. Otto is fantastic in this series.

I struggle with series that balance the past and the present without laying the groundwork for either. You are thrown into things without proper structure, and that causes things to be jumbled around a little bit. Another thing the series suffers from is each episode feels like a slog.

With each episode eclipsing that almost 50-minute mark, you find certain elements that could’ve been cut out, and that even speaks for the eight episodes when the story could’ve been told in 4-6.

Is The Clearing Season 1 Worth Watching?

The Clearing is a fascinating look into the worlds of cults in a way that shows how they operate to, eventually, how things can go south. The creators do a great job of bringing us into this world with not just stellar writing and performances but attention to detail. From the haircuts to how the God-like complex is built to the PTSD that one could suffer after going through being kidnapped.

Regardless of minor issues with storytelling structure and the runtime, The Clearing writers do a good job of keeping you guessing at every turn.

The knockout performance of Miranda Otto and Teresa Palmer, mixed with the thrilling psychological mystery, makes a series worth watching.

However, I will say that The Clearing might be better viewed as a binge instead of how it’s being released week-to-week. I am not sure there is enough juice to watch it weekly. Either way, enjoy it how you want, but be prepared to be on the edge of your seat for eight episodes.

What true story is The Clearing based on?

The Clearing is based on a book called In The Clearing by well-known thriller writer J.P. Pomare. In the book, we follow two women, Amy and Freya. Amy has unfortunately been a part of the cult for a long time and has been brainwashed into doing all she can to please the higher members of the community.

When a recruit joins, the status quo is thrown out of kilter, and events escalate.

Their balanced life and a fraction of routine are in danger when a recruit is brought in, upsetting the status quo and leading to an escalation of events.

Meanwhile, ex-cult member Freya is trying to live an everyday life, but when a local girl goes missing, things start to look bleak, as the horror of her past life seems to be coming back to haunt her. The book is a work of fiction, but the premise of a female-led cult with a horrific and shady practice at its core is based on a real-life cult called The Family.

The Family Cult (Credit – The Guardian)

Who are the Australian-based cult, The Family?

The cult the book used as a starting point was the real-life Australian religious group called The Family. Formed in the late 1960s, the cult stayed active through the 1980s.

Like the book and the TV show, the cult would use drugs, abuse, and forced adoption to facilitate its community, and creepily, members would be forced to have identical hairstyles and wear the same clothes.

The bizarre and frightening cult was finally brought to a close in the 80s when police raided the HQ of The Family and saved the children forcibly adopted into their ranks.

Who is the leader of the cult, The Family?

The leader of the cult was Anne Hamilton-Byrne. She would be arrested and charged with various crimes, including fraud and false imprisonment, but would somehow escape conviction.

Hamilton-Byrne was originally a Yoga teacher and claimed she was the reincarnation of Jesus Christ.

Her husband was Bill Byrne, also involved in the cult.

Where was The Clearing filmed?

Lake Eildon, Lake Eildon National Park, Australia

Lake Eildon, Lake Eildon National Park, Australia (Credit – Parks Victoria)

Most scenes filmed involving the cult were shot around picturesque Lake Eildon. According to the Victoria Parks website, the Lake Eildon National Park, situated in the Central Highlands region of Victoria, has a protected area of over 27,750 acres—this national parked approximately 111 kilometers northeast of Melbourne in the northern foothills.

As per the Lake Eildon website, it is a renowned inland waterway for recreational boating, with 25% of boating activity occurring there compared to 58% in Port Phillip Bay and coastal areas. The lake boasts 515 kilometers of shoreline and can store six times as much water as Sydney Harbour.

Additionally, a fascinating fact is that Lake Eildon is the only waterway in Victoria where houseboats are permitted.

Several shots, mostly exterior, were captured around the lake to showcase its natural beauty, including the low mountain ranges of the Dandenong, located just south of Melbourne. The lake has a depth of 76 kilometers, and during the early 21st-century droughts, the rooftops of homes became visible when the town of Darlingford flooded.

This led to what we now know as Lake Eildon.

Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Melbourne is the Australian state of Victoria’s capital and the country’s second-largest city. Known as the “live music capital of the world,” the community is brimming with creativity. Melbourne has a lively annual cultural event and festival scene, including Melbourne International Arts Festival and the Melbourne International Comedy Festival.

Melbourne is a city with a little more than five million people. The city is the 2nd most visited city in the country and the 73rd most visited in the world, with over three million visitors from outside Australia annually. The city is world-famous for its culinary and coffee scene and is known for the birth of Australian Rules football.

Notable films shot in Melbourne are Mad Max, The Lion, Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark, Darkness Falls, and Where the Wild Things Are. 

RELATED: Everything That Happened in The Clearing Season 1

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