Hulu’s The Clearing: Is the Thriller Series Rooted in Reality?

Hulu’s ‘The Clearing‘ is an Australian psychological thriller series that stars Teresa Palmer in the role of Freya Heywood, a woman who remembers her childhood memories and her connection to one of the female-led cults in the history of humankind — The Kindred. These unpleasant memories are triggered when a local girl goes missing. Now, Freya must confront the demons from her past in order to prevent further kidnappings of innocent children in the future.

Created by Elise McCredie and Matt Cameron, the thriller show features outstanding onscreen performances from Miranda Otto, Teresa Palmer, Guy Pearce, Julia Savage, Hazem Shammas, and Kate Mulvany. Given the fact that the central themes of cults and kidnappings are quite true to life, viewers are bound to wonder if ‘The Clearing’ is based on real events. Are you curious to know the answer to the same question? In that case, let’s explore the same in detail, shall we?

The Clearing Draws From True Stories of Cults

Yes, ‘The Clearing’ is based on the true events associated with several real-life cults in Australia and across the globe, especially the Australian cult called The Family and its leader Anne Hamilton-Byrne. Moreover, it is based on J. P. Pomare’s book titled ‘In the Clearing,’ which is a fictionalized account of The Family. From the 1960s to the 1990s, the female cult leader of The Family and her husband, Bill, managed to bring in around 28 children to their group, either through adoption scams or from cult members, only to raise them by instilling their ideologies in them.

As per reports, the children were not just subjected to beatings and starvation but also given daily doses of benzodiazepines to keep them under control. Since they were raised in isolation with no connection with the outside world, the children were heavily brainwashed and influenced into wearing matching outfits and reportedly having their hair bleached the same shade of blonde.

Although ‘The Clearing’ is inspired by The Family, it is not a to-the-letter retelling of the true events but includes several authentic details, such as the matching blonde hairdos of the children. Out of all the characters, the creators made sure to base one of the characters on Anne Hamilton-Byrne, the female leader of The Family. Apart from that, Guy Pearce’s character Dr. Bryce Latham is also inspired by a real person, that is The Family’s co-founder, Dr. Raynor Johnson. He was a physicist who helped The Family recruit more members to the cult, mostly the wealthy elite of Melbourne.

In the name of spiritual awakening and fulfillment, the children were convinced to take harmful amounts of LSD and had every single aspect of their lives under the control of The Family. A few months after Johnson died in 1987, The Family’s compound was raided by the authorities, and all the children were freed. In the meanwhile, the leader escaped to the United States only to be extradited back to Australia after being arrested on minor fraud charges. She took her last breath aged 98 in 2019 at an aged care facility.

The realness of the narrative affected many cast members, including Palmer, who explained in a May 2023 interview with UPI, “They’re still so deep in the suffering. At the end of the day, I get to go back to my comfortable life. That was the hardest pill to swallow, I think, for me.” Taking the aforementioned points into account, we reiterate that though the horrors inflicted by The Family is fictionalized by the makers in ‘The Clearing,’ the kidnapping and manipulation of the children are rooted deeply in reality.

Read More: Where is The Clearing Filmed?