On August 14th, 2018, the debut novel of author Delila Owens was released. Where the Crawdads Sing has in 4 short years become one of the bestselling novels of all time outselling classics such as The Exorcist. Like Paula Hawkins’ The Girl on the Train, it was only a matter of time before a feature film adaptation was in the works.
Set between the early 1950s to the late 60s, Where the Crawdads Sing tells the story of Kya (Daisy Edgar-Jones) an outcast woman who after being abandoned by her entire family at a young age, needed to learn to fend for herself to survive, isolated in the marshlands of a small town in North Carolina.
Through rumours and gossip she is accused of causing the death of Chase (Harris Dickinson) a young man she had been romantically involved with in the past. Held for the upcoming trial, local lawyer Tom Milton (David Strathairn) takes it upon himself to defend Kya against what he sees as a miscarriage of justice and using twin timelines, we learn of the story of this ‘marsh girl’ and the outcome of the trial against her.
This is a visually stunning movie, cinematographer Polly Morgan who had previously brought a stark desolate nature to the screen in A Quiet Place Part II perfectly captures the beauty of the marshlands Kya calls home. A large part of the film relies on us understanding why this girl would prefer to live in the wilderness, and her love and appreciation of nature’s creatures is undeniably presented on screen.
Having never read the novel on which this film is based on, I was able to approach the mystery it presented from the perspective of someone who hasn’t had the ending spoilt and without the prejudice of judging it compared to the source material. But also, without any foreknowledge of the book’s content to fill in any gaps that the filmmakers themselves may have left, and this is really where the film suffers. At 2 hours with multiple characters and subplots, parallel timelines and twists, it felt to me that the story would have been better told with more time allowed.
I appreciated how Kya‘s story was told in flashbacks and even that it made up the majority of the film. However, everything had a very Nicolas Sparks style feel to it like some kind of soap opera. Despite having some interesting and possibly unintentional red herrings for those paying attention to the mystery itself, this takes a back-seat to the melodrama about love triangles and the film goes down some extremely predictable pathways as a result.
It is clear everyone involved wanted to tell a story about a strong female character facing a life of hardship, but we only get a surface level appreciation of most of it. The themes of persecution, abandonment, class warfare and misogyny may be a lot darker than something you’d generally see in a Hallmark movie, but the film isn’t any deeper because of it.
All the actors in the film give great performances. Edgar-Jones is stunning with her portrayal of this shy girl who just wishes to keep to herself. There were times earlier on where I felt that perhaps another actress could have been used to show Kya throughout her teenage years, which could have given a better sense of the passage of time beyond simply being told what year the current flashback is set in. But Edgar-Jones does a great job regardless and following on from her role in ‘Fresh’, proves herself as a formidable leading lady.
Special mention must also go to David Strathairn for his performance as Tom Milton, without whom the entire trial ‘present day’ timeline would not have been as powerful as it was. As said before, majority of the film focuses on Kya‘s life in flashbacks prior to the trial and Strathairn really does carry the trial part of the film.
Where the Crawdads Sing may not be as great as it had the potential to be. That said, it is a generally interesting mystery not just about death, but also of life, this woman’s life crossed with a romantic story and brought to the big screen, with some amazing performances against the stunning North Carolina marshlands backdrop, everything combined makes for what will surely be a crowd pleaser.
Where the Crawdads Sing will be in Australian cinemas from July 21.