Where The Crawdads Sing


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Where The Crawdads Sing
"With no reason to fear for her safety, the bulk of the film feels like a soap opera."

Delia Owens’ 2018 novel was such a sensational hit, and conjured up such a strong sense of place, that it was inevitable it would find its way to the screen. Cinematographer Polly Morgan makes wonderful use of saturated air and diffused light in the Louisiana marshes (which stand in for North Carolina) to create an atmosphere which will enchant fans and newcomers alike. There are impressive performances from young Jojo Regina and older Daisy Edgar-Jones alike as heroine Kya ‘the marsh girl’, but sad to say, there’s very little else.

The story follows the prosecution of Kya for the alleged murder of a popular high school quarterback, Chase Andrews (Harris Dickinson), and also flashes back to her earlier life to reflect on the way in which, having been abandoned by her family and rejected by most of the local community, she struggled to survive by herself. Her early childhood is captured in an evocative and often moving way, but once she grows up and embarks on the romantic relationships which will shape her fate, the film begins to sag badly. Both bad boy Chase and the sweet but skittish Tate (Taylor John Smith) are one note characters, the young actors unable to bring any depth to them. There is no romantic or sexual tension and it’s hard to see why Kya would get worked up over either of them.

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What really mystifies here is why a case is being brought against Kya at all. One can understand the suspicion, and the film clearly wants to say something about prejudice, but there’s simply no solid evidence brought to bear against her, and it seems absurd that the matter should reach a court. Given this, it’s impossible to take the threat of conviction seriously, even before David Strathairn turns up as a public defender who has more gravitas than the rest of the cast put together and makes big, Atticus Finch-style speeches in response to the prosecutions flaccid reliance on hearsay. With no reason to fear for her safety, the bulk of the film feels like a soap opera.

The focus on prejudice adds to the problem, not just because of the trite manner in which it’s handled but because the day to day risk Kya faces is much lower than that of her black neighbours, grocery store owners Mabel (Michael Hyatt) and Jumpin’ (Sterling Macer Jr). To be fair, this is a problem which stems from the source material, but it still makes the film feel awkwardly balanced. Some effort has been made to bring this couple further to the fore – they are the only local people to show any real concern for the abandoned child – and the actors give them a depth and complexity which they were not afforded in the book, but they are still squeezed out of the narrative in favour of far less interesting white people.

That the marsh girl actually has quite a lot of advantages, and is intelligent and skilled, is something which the narrative has reasons to obscure – it is to Edgar-Jones’ credit that we are able to look at her from different angles and appreciate these layers. Unfortunately, the larger effect of this obfuscation is to slow the film down. It feels bloated and lethargic rather than achieving the serenity and lyricism which director Olivia Newman seems to be aiming for. When it does pick up the pace, it lurches rather than flowing naturally, which is particularly unfortunate when it comes to key moments like the twist at the end (indeed, this may be why most viewers seem to have completely missed the further questions which that twist raises).

There is plenty of beautiful scenery in the marsh, the result being that you will find yourself longing for it like Kya does whenever the camera is elsewhere. The Oscar-shortlisted theme song by Taylor Smith complements this well and succeeds in striking that note of languorous melancholy which the film as a whole misses. In the end, Newman’s work doesn’t succeed in saying anything that hasn’t been said more effectively elsewhere, and its impressive elements simply make the rest look more hollow.

Reviewed on: 30 Dec 2022
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Where The Crawdads Sing packshot
A woman who raised herself in the marshes of the Deep South becomes a suspect in the murder of a man with whom she was once involved.

Director: Olivia Newman

Writer: Lucy Alibar, based on the book by Delia Owens

Starring: Daisy Edgar-Jones, Taylor John Smith, Harris Dickinson, Jojo Regina, David Strathairn, Michael Hyatt, Sterling Macer Jr

Year: 2022

Runtime: 125 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US


Streaming on: Netflix

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