Miranda Otto Is a Terrifying Cult Leader

May 17, 2023

Disney’s first original Australian miniseries for Hulu and Disney+, The Clearing, is a gripping mystery involving a brainwashing cult, child disappearances, and Teresa Palmer as a mother trying to deal with ghosts from her past. Based on J.P. Pomare’s best-selling crime thriller In The Clearing, it’s a compelling premise that surpasses expectations in the three episodes screened for review.

The Clearing tells two intertwined stories. The first involves the Kindred, a cult dedicated to controlling the hearts and minds of young children to turn them into perfect adults. While the cult has remained under the radar, everything changes when they kidnap the rebellious eight-year-old Sara (Paityn Batchelor). Sara’s arrival puts the Kindred under police scrutiny while the young girl spreads dissent among the children, who begin to question their teaching. Thanks to Sara’s kidnapping, the series can also explore the intricacies of the world as the audience learns how things work for the Kindred.

Meanwhile, Palmer plays the role of Freya, a distressed mother who fears for the fate of her own son after watching the news of a girl’s disappearance. Freya lives in a secluded home in the woods, dedicating every waking moment to surveilling her son. As a result, Freya’s paranoia gives the series a suffocating atmosphere. While it doesn’t take too long for us to realize she is somehow connected to the cult, we’re also invited to wonder how terrible Freya’s freedom might be — since she still lives in fear even after her mysterious experience with the Kindred.

Image via Hulu

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At first, we don’t know how these two storylines will connect, and part of the fun is guessing how small details tie characters together that seemingly have nothing to do with each other. However, as the show goes on, The Clearing clues us in on what each storyline means to the whole of the plot. That doesn’t lessen the mystery, though. In fact, it only makes things more enigmatic as we are led to question what could have happened with each character to drive them to act as they do. Worldbuilding can be a great storytelling tool, but a show that leans heavily on character tends to hit harder — at least when its cast is as compelling as they are in The Clearing.

On that note, while Palmer is great as the cult survivor who lets paranoia define her lifestyle, Miranda Otto absolutely shines as Mommy, the Kindred matriarch. Mommy’s words are graceful as she genuinely cares about her children. Still, we can see the horror she inflicts on them, and we can’t help but wonder how the cult leader can remain so blind to the consequences of her actions — or if it’s a product of willful ignorance. Yes, Mommy is well aware of the harsh punishments she imposes on the Kindred, but in just a few episodes The Clearing underlines how the cult leader is convinced her morally ambiguous choices are the only thing protecting her children from the horror of the outside world. While the treatment dispensed by Mommy is harsh, the choices the matriarch makes come from a place of self-convinced love, which makes the Kindred even scarier. Otto perfectly brings a highly complex character to life, making our spines shiver even when she speaks swear words. There’s something enthralling in the way Otto plays Mommy, and despite the dangers of the cult, we are still mesmerized by how she preaches union and solidarity. And isn’t that exactly how a cult leader should act?

Julia Savage also deserves all the praise she can get for her role as Amy, the rebellious child who desperately wants Mommy’s love while still questioning the lies she has been fed her entire life. Of course, it’s always a pleasure to see a great actor nail a role, and the feat is even more awe-inspiring when the performer is of such young age. If The Clearing exemplifies Savage’s acting abilities, we can be confident the young actress has a brilliant career ahead of her.

Image via Hulu

Any show dealing with two parallel storylines risks making one of them more interesting than the other. So, unsurprisingly, during the season premiere, we were immediately drawn to the cult storyline, pulled in by our morbid desire to understand the beliefs and rules that break the mind of children and turn them into obedient zombies. The Clearing quickly subverts expectations, adding twists and turns that make Palmer’s storyline even more thrilling than the perversity of the Kindred cult. And since everything is crucial to understanding what’s happening with the cult and its members, The Clearing keeps you engaged while it jumps back and forth between storylines.

It’s not easy to manage a mystery with so many moving parts, and some twists don’t get the smooth introduction they deserve. Still, everything we’ve seen so far from The Clearing indicates that co-creators Elise McCredie and Matt Cameron, as well as co-writer Osamah Sami, have crafted a mystery that’s equally disturbing and thrilling. With only three episodes available for review purposes, we can’t say whether all the pieces will fit nicely into the puzzle once the season comes to an end. However, these early episodes have maintained a surprising balance between answering some questions and raising new ones. It’s great pacing for a thriller series with so much secrecy involved, keeping us curious and wanting to come back for more all the while still giving enough information so that we can start figuring some things out on our own. If the rest of The Clearing’s season maintains the same rhythm, this series will most definitely be a hit with mystery fans.

Rating: B

The Clearing will premiere on May 24 on Disney+ and Hulu.

Disclaimer: This story is auto-aggregated by a computer program and has not been created or edited by filmibee.
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