‘Secrets are buried just beneath the surface’
Where the Crawdads Sing is a 2022 American mystery thriller about a young woman who raises herself in the marshes of the deep South; she becomes the prime suspect in the murder case of a young man she was once involved with.
Directed by Olivia Newman from a screenplay written by Lucy Alibar, based on the book of the same name by Delia Owens. Produced by Aislinn Dunster, Elizabeth Gabler, Reese Witherspoon and Erin Siminoff.
The 3000 Pictures-Hello Sunshine production stars Daisy Edgar-Jones, Harris Dickinson, David Strathairn, Garret Dillahunt, Taylor John Smith and Eric Ladin.
Kya (Daisy Edgar-Jones) is an abandoned girl who raised herself to adulthood in the dangerous marshlands of North Carolina. For years, rumours of the “Marsh Girl” haunted Barkley Cove, isolating the sharp and resilient Kya from her community.
Drawn to two young men from town, Kya opens herself to a new and startling world; but when one of them is found dead, she is immediately cast by the community as the main suspect. As the case unfolds, the verdict as to what actually happened becomes increasingly unclear, threatening to reveal the many secrets that lay within the marsh…
The American masses all reading naturalist-turned-novelist Delia Owens’ surprise 2018 bestselling Where the Crawdads Sing is probably the only thing that brought the USA together before getting at each other’s throats over coronavirus vaccines or accused election-rigging. I myself have been known to make “Marsh Girl” jokes, especially online. Where they are met with stony silence now. Truly the good times are over.
But while it lasted the property was hot enough to find a sponsor in actress/book-club founder Reese Witherspoon (a producer here) and a great many female hands behind the scenes, for what is a Southern-Gothic-meets-earth-science-meets-courtroom-mystery-romance.
A flashback-y timeline spans the early 1950s to the 21st century. Like Owens’ novel, the picture does not aspire to invoke a time-capsule cultural milieu any more than absolutely necessary. In a 1969 not cultural baggaged by gratuitous Woodstock music, Vietnam footage or Apollo moon references, sheriffs on the North Carolina marshes discover the body of a local cad, Chase Andrews (Harris Dickinson) dead in the mud, having fallen – or been pushed – off an observation tower.
Suspicion falls on his ex-lover, Kya (Daisy Edgar-Jones), an eccentric dismissively dubbed the “Marsh Girl” for having led a mostly solitary, self-sufficient existence in the wild after her tragic alcohol- and abuse-scarred family disintegrated. On trial, Kya reveals her unexpectedly rich hidden life to a paternal court-appointed solicitor (David Straithairn); she developed as a self-taught artist-naturalist and was taught to read by her gentle and similarly science-minded childhood boyfriend Tate (Taylor John Smith). But upon attending university, Tate withdrew from the lower-class Kya, leaving her heartbroken and open to the considerable charms of the community’s high-borne school-athlete Chase – who does seem to sincerely love the outcast Marsh Girl… at first.
So did Kya end up killing Chase, or was it an accident in which she was not involved at all? Director Olivia Newman’s serviceable dramatisation hits the touchpoints of the bare storyline but never immerses viewers in the biology-struck lyricism of Owens’ prose – hard to imagine many filmmakers who could pull that off, apart from Terence Malick. Without that fragile spell, the mystery element here is fairly obvious, and the whole thing essentially makes for a mildly diverting adaptation for those too lazy or preoccupied to turn pages. Edgar-Jones is a nicely human-scale heroine, not making Kya into a shack-dwelling Wednesday Addams. Though viewers might complain this is exactly what’s lacking with the heroine, too much wide-eyed innocence and not enough Boo Radley-spooky qualities.
Yes, that is Taylor Swift warbling a closing musical theme. Do not bother making Marsh Girl jokes about her; if I am any indication, it will not get you anyplace.
Charles Cassady Jr, MOVIES and MANIA
“A braver film would have aimed for actual grit more than the allusion to it, looked to the scabbier (and thus interesting) parts of Kya’s personality, captured a fundamental awkwardness to life outside of human interaction along with an idealized naiveté. Most of all, drawn out darker aspects of Kya’s story that could justify an implausible twist ending…” The Guardian
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