June 4, 2020
by Carla Hay
“The Clearing” (2020)
Directed by David Matalon
Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed U.S. city, the zombie horror flick “The Clearing” has a racially diverse cast (primarily white and African American) representing the middle-class.
Culture Clash: A man and his teenage daughter go on a camping trip and encounter a group of rabid zombies.
Culture Audience: “The Clearing” will appeal primarily to people who like formulaic zombie stories with plenty of bloody gore and other violence.
“The Clearing” is one of those B-level zombie movies that doesn’t try to be anything other than what it is: mindless, bloody entertainment. Even though it’s an utterly predictable movie, that doesn’t mean that people who like this type of horror won’t enjoy it, because “The Clearing” delivers when it comes to action and over-the-top violence. “The Clearing” is an original feature film from the streaming service Crackle, a joint venture from Chicken Soup for the Soul Entertainment (which owns the majority stake in the company) and Sony Pictures Television.
Written and directed by David Matalon, “The Clearing” opens with a man named Tom (played by Liam McIntyre) waking up in a messy camper trailer and seeing his teenage daughter Mira (played by Aundrea Smith) sleeping nearby. But the next time he looks over at her bed, she’s gone. In a panic, he goes outside where his truck and trailer are parked in a campground clearing. He sees a frightened woman racing toward him from a nearby wooded area, and yelling at Tom to run.
And then, all of a sudden, a rabid pack of zombies overtakes the woman and kills her, as Tom barely makes it back into the trailer alive. These aren’t the slow-moving zombies of “The Night of the Living Dead.” These are the type of zombies that can run quickly and attack like a mob of wild, drug-crazed cannibals.
There’s a small rooftop window that he uses to get on top of the trailer, where he sees that the trailer is now surrounded by zombies. This “trapped on a vehicle roof and surrounded by zombies” scene is straight out of the zombie TV series “The Walking Dead,” whose premiere episode featured this type of scene as a cliffhanger.
“The Clearing” then flashes back to days earlier, to give a little backstory on who Tom and Mira are and why they’re on a camping trip together. At the time they took the trip, their father-daughter relationship was tense. In a flashback scene, Mira and her mother Naomi (played by Sydelle Noel) are working on a Girl Scouts activity together of picking flowers for an art project. Tom sees them and dismissively says that what they’re doing isn’t a “real” Scout activity, which he defines as physical sports or learning survival skills. It’s obvious that Mira isn’t the athletic child Tom wants her to be.
Later, in a private conversation between Naomi and Tom, Naomi chastises him for being rude about Mira’s Girl Scouts activities and because Tom isn’t spending enough time with Mira. Naomi insists that Tom take Mira on a father-daughter camping trip that weekend, even though Tom says he’d already promised to play poker with a male friend in that time period.
While Tom and Mira are driving to the camping site, a radio newscast reports that the county has been experiencing a “rash of violent attacks,” and police are trying to establish the cause. Tom turns off the radio before more information can be heard. When they arrive at the camp site, things are still very strained between Mira and Tom. She says to him, “I don’t want to spend any time with you because I don’t like you.”
Tom wants Mira to do physical activities with him, such as hiking and fishing. Mira tells Tom that she would rather play computer games on her phone, which he eventually orders her to put away so that they can go hiking together. The tension starts to ease a little bit between Mira and Tom when they discover a Chinook arrowhead together, and he teaches her how to light a fire and the basics of smoke signals and Morse code.
Later, in one of the film’s poignant scenes, Mira tells Tom that she’s sorry she wasn’t a boy because she knows that Tom wishes that she were a boy. Mira says, “I can try to be like a boy.” Tom asks why. Mira replies, “So you can spend more time with me.”
Tom and Mira also meet some friendly families who are camping nearby. The camping trip is turning out better than Tom and Mira thought it would. And then the zombies attacked. The rest of the movie is about Tom’s fight against the zombies, as he frantically tries to find out what happened to Mira.
During this intense battle, he makes his way to his truck, but the engine won’t start. (Of course it won’t.) Later in the story, Tom encounters another uninfected human—an unnamed park ranger (played by Steven Swadling), who crashes his jeep into a tree while being chased by zombies, and is quickly rescued by Tom.
Will they both make it out alive? And where is Mira? Those questions are answered in the movie. “The Clearing” has almost non-stop (and mostly unrealistic) action, but the movie still has plenty of suspense-filled moments to almost make up for the formulaic and unimaginative screenplay.
McIntyre is best known for starring in the TV series “Spartacus” from 2012 to 2013 and for his supporting role as the Weather Wizard/Mark Mardon in “The Flash” from 2015 to 2018. He’s got the athletic skills to convincingly pull off the action scenes in the movie, even if viewers constantly have to suspend disbelief that Tom is able to fight off a group of 10 to 20 zombies at a time without getting bitten. Tom does have a few guns and other weapons at his disposal, but there’s a limited number of bullets.
At one point in the movie, Tom duct tapes some mattress material to his arms and legs for protection, but that protection doesn’t last long. And he still doesn’t get bitten. His injuries are never serious enough to keep him down. Tom’s job is never mentioned in the movie, so maybe he’s had special training to explain why he fights like a professional combat warrior.
Thanks to the competent acting of the handful of cast members with speaking roles, “The Clearing” doesn’t sink into the “abysmally bad” category of most zombie movies. It’s a mediocre horror flick with a lot of bloody action, and it’s the kind of film where it’s easy to know how everything’s going to end even before the movie starts.
Crackle premiered “The Clearing” on June 4, 2020.