by Abhi Parasher

Society’s uniquely perverse fascination with cults has manifested in many iconic TV shows and movies such as Wild Wild Country and Midsommar. Perhaps, it is the deranged yet unsettlingly charismatic leaders that attract us, or the egregiously violent yet somewhat comical rules and regulations with which each cult conducts its way of life.

This unique obsession with cults will be explored in the new local series, The Clearing, which follows a woman who must face the demons from her past in order to stop the kidnapping and coercion of innocent children in the future.

Based on the bestselling novel by J.P. Pomare, In the Clearing, the series adaptation is a fictional tale of an investigation into a cult.

Although fictional, many viewers may recognise the blonde hair and matching dresses present in photos of The Family, an infamous 1960s cult based in the Dandenong Ranges.

The Clearing, shot in Victoria, traverses the lives of the characters through different decades.

We first follow a cult called the Kindred at the height of its power, when a high-ranking member kidnaps a young girl, sparking an investigation.

The episodes are intercut with a time in the future after the demise of the group, exploring the lasting psychological impact on one of its members, Freya, as she deals with her past.

The gargantuan task of playing characters in different eras could only be handled by Australia’s finest actors. Disney’s first foray into locally produced television is in the hands of the exceptionally talented cast comprising of Teresa Palmer, Guy Pearce, Kate Mulvany and Mark Coles Smith, to name but a few.

“All these streamers have a wealth of serial killer documentaries about crazy cult leaders, so I got a little addicted at a point watching the worst of humanity,” laughs Hazem Shammas, who plays Detective Yusuf Joe Saad in the series. “I was looking at these cops and the day-to-day events they face that these true crime shows tap into.”

The Clearing examines our preoccupation with the cult mentality and suggests that the obsession may lie in the unique complexities with which cults are formed and scaled.

“It’s really interesting to explore how those power complexes in a cult can be exercised,” says Julia Savage, who plays a younger member of the Kindred named Amy. “It is still happening now, so it’ll be quite a relatable series.”

Adapted by Matt Cameron (Jack Irish) and Elise McCredie (Stateless), the series deviates from the novel, specifically with the part of Yusuf Joe Saad, who is not a character in the book.

Typical of the subject matter, the series crosses through disturbing territory. Inspired by real life stories of The Family and like-minded cults, there are many distressing scenes; none more so than those involving the manipulatively charming cult leader, Adrienne, expertly portrayed by Miranda Otto.

Despite the dark nature of the series, being surrounded by experienced thesps made the set a welcome and safe place for the younger actors.

The Clearing premieres on Disney+ on May 24, 2023