Based on Delia Owens’ 2018 smash hit novel of the same name, Where the Crawdads Sing is a sleepy foray into the marshlands of North Carolina. Kya (Daisy Edgar-Jones) becomes trapped in a web of murder, love and mud as she is shunned by a small town. Kit Sinclair reviews.
Where the Crawdads Sing valiantly attempts to juggle the tale’s multiple genres – part coming-of-age, part murder mystery, part romance – but can’t quite find the balance. Though it sells itself in the trailer as a dark and gritty crime thriller, the result is a washed out picture that takes no risks: easy to watch, but no real bite.
Where the Crawdads Sing follows Kya as she grows up in the marshlands near Barkley Cove, a fictional coastal town in North Carolina. She has a troubled home life, never goes to school and is ridiculed by the local townspeople. Most distressingly of all, her family slowly leaves their cabin one by one, eventually leaving her alone to fend for herself at the tender age of seven. As she grows up, she navigates life and love, particularly two local boys, Tate Walker (Taylor John Smith) and Chase Andrews (Harris Dickinson). When Chase Andrews is found dead, however, she is caught up in a murder trial that scandalises the town.
Kya’s life really does get the ‘Hollywood treatment’, which takes away from the credibility of her situation
Kya is played by Daisy Edgar-Jones of Normal People fame. She does an excellent job of capturing Kya’s emotional turmoil and closed-off nature with her body language and subtle expressions. Where things fell a little flat was in her line delivery, which often felt stilted and emotionless. This was a problem that plagued a lot of the actors, including Taylor John Smith and Harris Dickinson (who play Tate and Chase, respectively), leading me to believe this may have been a problem with a subpar script rather than the actors themselves.
The standout performances came from Sterling Macer Jr. and Michael Hyatt as Jumpin’ and Mabel, the proprietors of the gas station, who were exactly as I pictured them in the book.
The soundtrack is very well done and Taylor Swift’s new single Carolina fits the tone perfectly. Setting aside some questionable CGI moments – the watchtower scene was particularly painful, along with a rather unbelievable first kiss – the film is also beautiful to look at. The marshland is exactly as I pictured it when I read Owens’ exquisite depictions in the book, and Kya’s wardrobe, especially in the second half, is a thing of beauty.
Yet, therein lies another problem. Kya and her family are meant to be living in absolute poverty, but their cabin looks clean and beautifully designed, and Kya herself is always perfectly turned out. Though it may be a cliche, Kya’s life really does get the ‘Hollywood treatment’, which takes away from the credibility of her situation.
You have to wonder why Owens chose this topic in particular
Kya’s poverty isn’t the only thing the film tries to whitewash. It’s been well hidden in all of the publicity for the film, but Delia Owens’ background in Zambia’s anti-poaching sector is as murky as the marshland Kya calls home. She and her ex-husband, along with their son Christopher, are still wanted for questioning by the Zambian authorities concerning the death of a poacher in the mid 1990s, according to reporting in The Atlantic. All three have denied any involvement. The film tries to answer the question of whether murder can ever be justifiable, and you have to wonder why Owens chose this topic in particular, especially when the film seems to respond in the affirmative.
If you can put aside this moral quandary, the film is perfectly acceptable and easy viewing for a lazy summer’s day. I would be surprised, however, if this adaptation reaches the same dizzying heights of popularity as the book.
Featured image courtesy of Alex Watkin. Permission to use granted to Impact. No changes were made to this image.
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