The Clearing, 2020.
Directed by David Matalon.
Starring Liam McIntyre, Aundrea Smith, Steven Swadling, and Sydelle Noel.
A father must battle his way through the zombie apocalypse to save his daughter.
As the debate between “slow zombies” and “fast zombies” rages onward (on an NSFW subreddit somewhere), The Clearing poses an even more significant question: what if fast zombies also spread parasitic worms!? Or some variation of wriggly annelids. David Matalon’s apocalyptic campground takeover introduces a new foil into zombie lore but never bothers to explain further. Scripted intentions focus on the strained relationship between an outdoorsy father and his tech-obsessed daughter, who become separated by a horde of undead threats. Matalon’s setting is a microcosm; greater developments ignored at a detriment to storytelling and expansion. A movie like Cargo sells father-daughter dynamics while still building an entire zombified ecosystem; The Clearing bogs itself down with a repetitive cycle of failed escapes that utilizes “runners” as nothing but generic genre obstacles.
In a tale as old as time, papa Tom (Liam McIntyre) doesn’t understand why his maturing cub Mira (Aundrea Smith) is distancing herself. Maybe it has something to do with Tom’s making fun of Mira’s interests? In any case, Tom drags Mira into forested isolation for a proper “scouting” trip versus her usual picking of daisies and awarded merit badges for hugs. The bad news? They wake up to find all neighboring campers are now infected, carnivorous monsters. Tom is trapped in their trailer-attached RV while Mira hides farther away, Tom drawing all unwanted attention. Daddy needs to wear his hero pants if either is to live another day.
Matalon introduces his zombies in the film’s opening minutes, as we accelerate right into Tom’s first altercation. He arises, a tad groggy, and wanders outside calling Mira’s name. Immediately he witnesses two “infected” tackle a woman and clamp their teeth down on her flesh, passing whatever virus or bacteria. One zed’s chest bursts open, spraying thickened blood on its newly turned victim (wormies squirming from her fresh cheek wound). Camera movements are frantic, sprinting zombies (or whatever classification) have perfected Goldberg’s patented “Spear” finisher, and we get a sense that these reclassified hyper-zombies are no joke.
Then the rest of The Clearing happens.
Tom’s entrapment within his makeshift fortress – windows barricaded with wooden cabinet doors – defines Matalon’s script more a confinement thriller. Areas include inside the RV, on the RV’s roof, and inside his Dodge Ram (looking) pickup truck. Zombies circle the vehicle and hitched shelter, which means whenever Tom makes a break for Mira, they swarm like locusts. You’d presume instant death for Tom given the opening feast, correct? Of course not. Tom’s continuously manhandled and restrained by zombies, who flail and dart about like NFL linebackers, but they never bite despite their apparent goals. The Clearing is the type of horror film where rules don’t apply to the lead hero because no (er, few) other characters exist as offerings. It’s a bit of a mood-suck. Frustrating because the aggression suggested does not erase multiple instances where Tom should be chewed to the bone.
That’s not to say intensity is lacking. Tom earns every exasperated gasp after he struggles through another crowd of flesh-eaters. Danger is ever-present, but cinematography does no favors when flying around with instability. As Tom is pushed, grabbed, jostled, or flung around, camera motions become a chaotic blur of waving limbs and shaky distortion. Here’s where repetitiveness overtakes.
Tom’s only options are to either get his car working or sprint away from pursuers. Tom jumps from his RV’s roof, the camera spins out of control while zombies get close-enough to sinking their toxic teeth into muscle, then Tom retreats when improvisational execution goes south. How does he stay alive for so long? How does the infection not spread when he’s covered in zombie juices? Questions that’ll cause audiences to wonder if The Clearing would suffice as a short film where only one or two escape attempts are needed and the finale plays out as presented.
There’s no doubt actor Liam McIntyre is a fighter. Given cleaner visibility, more praise might reward Tom’s brawler choreography. Matalon intends to evoke emotional responses amidst extreme terrors by throwing zombie cinema, growing pains, and parental woes into a blender. What we get is a forced depiction of Tom’s oddly aggressive belittling of Mira to empower their hopeful reunion, a bit corny and dramatic in early glimpses. Like, Tom arguing about father-daughter time because he wants to play poker with “the boys.” That kind of man-stuff. Not saying this brand of neglect and selfishness doesn’t exist for relatable reasons, but the descriptor “staged” comes to mind too often.
The Clearing could work wonders for introductory horror fans. A movie like Cargo navigates family matters, parental protection, and imminent doom with more effective stakes, but maybe the common movie watcher hasn’t seen Cargo? Or countless other survival thrillers that mirror similarities to The Clearing? That’s David Matalon’s intended audience. Gnarly effects sever limbs and showcase boiled-and-sliced prosthetic makeup on zombie bodies, which are notable pluses. Too bad it becomes increasingly harder to properly appreciate these bonuses as cinematography is wavy enough to instigate motion sickness, while the “universe” created shows itself to be narrow-sighted and restrictive. A case of what is never cinematically acknowledged somehow becoming more interesting than the presented horrors at hand.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★
Matt spends his after-work hours posting nonsense on the internet instead of sleeping like a normal human. He seems like a pretty cool guy, but don’t feed him after midnight just to be safe (beers are allowed/encouraged). Follow him on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd (@DoNatoBomb).