It wasn’t too long ago (2013, to be exact) that a Cheerios commercial entitled “Just Checking” made national headlines for sparking a torrent of racial hatred online over its portrayal of an interracial (READ: BLACK AND WHITE) couple and their daughter. While it would be tough to say that race relations as a whole have improved since then, one area in which notable strides have been made is the normalization of biracial families in mainstream media. Hell, these days, there may be even more miscegenation on network television commercials than on Pornhub.
Although interracial families are certainly not uncommon in real life, they’ve been something of an unspoken, relatively unshown taboo on TV and in movies. Sure, you might see James Bond catching jungle fever now and then, but there’s been little that’s more substantive than those types of shallow, physical relationships — and the thought of a black and white couple having a bond committed enough to produce both a wedding AND a child has long seemed beyond the grasp of Hollywood (or at least beyond what Hollywood thinks the American populace can handle).
That said, there’s been a marked improvement in that area since 2013, and The Clearing embodies a welcome shift towards a new era of representation that not only showcases interracial families, but showcases them in a way that doesn’t necessarily revolve around the fact that they’re interracial. The family at the center of The Clearing reflects reality: a white father, a black mother and a biracial daughter engaged in activities and discussions that don’t have anything to do with their race. They’re just a normal family doing what normal families do: killing reanimated corpses.
The story finds rough-and-tumble Tom (Liam McIntyre) having trouble connecting with his tween daughter Mira (Aundrea Smith), so his wife Naomi (Sydelle Noel) suggests he take her on a weekend camping trip. Unfortunately for them, they fail to check the zombie apocalypse forecast and end stuck up in the wilderness during an undead outbreak, with Tom trapped inside a camper surrounded by zombies (who, though never explained, seem to be infected by some sort of mutant and/or alien worms) while Mira is separated in the nearby woods.
The bulk of the film consists of Tom repeatedly trying to find his way back to Mira, failing miserably and then retreating back to the camper to reminisce about his experience bonding with her (and teaching her survival techniques) earlier in the trip. The flashback daddy-daughter scenes are realistically awkward yet poignant — at one point, Mira apologizes for not being the boy she thinks Tom wanted — with McIntyre and Smith selling their sweet bond with believable performances.
Balancing out those touchy-feely moments are the scenes of Tom’s attempted escapes from his RV prison, each ordeal littered with enough gory shootings, bludgeonings, stabbings and amputations to satiate the blood thirst of traditional zombie fans who might otherwise be disappointed that these are “fast” zombies. The action is harrowing, with frenetic camerawork capturing the mayhem of Tom fighting off 20 or 30 zombies (or “infected,” since they’re more like 28 Days Later; it’s not clear if they’re dead or not) — which begs a few questions: How does he never become infected or even get more than a few scratches on him? Is he Bruce Willis from Unbreakable? AND WHY THE HELL ARE THERE SO MANY PEOPLE IN THE MIDDLE OF NOWHERE?!? WHY DO THEY ALL LOOK LIKE STUNT PEOPLE?!? WAS THERE A FALL GUY FAN FEST NEARBY? Well, I suppose the answer to the latter is obvious, seeing as how the ending credits list only 5 cast members but about 35 stunt performers.
Having played Spartacus on Starz, McIntyre is adept at delivering the goods in the action scenes, rendered in intense fashion by first-time director David Matalon. However, the repetitious nature of Tom making a break for it and then getting driven back to the camper gets a bit tiresome, especially when the person who’s REALLY in peril here is Mira, who survives at least THREE NIGHTS ALONE in the zombie-strewn woods — and for some reason, you never see how she does it. Would it have killed ‘em to show a scene or two of her using her informal scout training to transform into a mini Rambro? Probably not, because apparently nothing can kill this indestructible family.