Where the Crawdads Sing movie cast: Daisy Edgar Jones, Taylor John Smith, Harris Dickinson
Where the Crawdads Sing movie director: Olivia Newman
Where the Crawdads Sing movie rating: 3 stars
Marked by often striking writing, but also the dark past of the writer of the book this film is based on, Where the Crawdads Sing is effective as a story about loneliness and love (however improbable). It’s less so in its grander aims of shining the light on a society’s prejudices, or the beastliness of men.
All in all, the dark side of the marsh that the slight, vulnerable Kya (Daisy Edgar Jones) inhabits alone, and has done for a long, long time, is largely invisible. The sun usually dapples here gently on leaves, rippling waters, flying snow geese and fallen feathers, then sets harshly to bring out creatures of the night.
That is not to say the story of Kya doesn’t tug at your heart strings. Abandoned one by one by her family, including her mother who escaped her abusive father, Kya is a shoeless, grimy girl who has to learn to fend alone in the marsh where she lives in the family’s defenceless home. The town next door knows about her fate, but is too smug to do something about it, and later too quick to brand her as “weak of character”.
First played by Jojo Regina, Kya morphs almost too quickly into an almost ridiculously normal, albeit shy, teenager played by Edgar Jones.
Money is short, but mussels aplenty in the marsh to sell and make do. Food has to be scrounged, but she seems to do okay with that. She is lonely — “a loneliness so vast that it echoes”, one of those lines that lingers with you — but there is art to fill her time, and it’s a talent that she develops and sustains preternaturally.
Love comes to her as symbiotically, in the form of that one rare childhood friend who has grown into a handsome, intelligent, considerate and kind youth, Tate (Taylor John Smith). He teaches her to read and write, and she discovers that “words can hold so much”. It’s a warm, kind, gentle romance, of a bygone era, even if the period is the 1960s.
There are periodic interruptions in this idyll, in the form of social services, developers, but none that hold back Kya’s journey for too long.
Where we meet her though is at her encounter with the one real danger that could end her way of life: the mysterious death of the town’s “best quarterback”, Chase (Harris Dickinson), with her charged as the accused.
If Tate and Kya are a natural, easy fit, it’s only her solitude when he leaves, that explains her easy susceptibility to the cad, shallow Chase. Edgar Jones does well to convey that sense of desperate wariness even as Chase closes in. “At some unclaimed moment, the pain (left by Tate) seeped away,” she says.
At the same time, it’s this intensely and insistently considerate light in which the film casts Kya that ultimately does the most injustice to the girl who has conquered a jungle. While the film loves talking about all those who betrayed her, Kya is blessed with almost too many Good Samaritans at crucial moments.
“A marsh doesn’t see death as tragedy necessarily, and certainly not as sin.” Kya underlines this at least twice in Where the Crawdads Sing. But the film, directed by Olivia Newman, is almost desperate to erase any chance of a taint touching her.
One death that will trail the film always now though is whether the writer of the book (on which the film is based), Delia Owens, was saying something about rightful tragedies from her own life. Owens is accused of being party to the televised execution of a poacher during her escapades as a conservator in Zambia, among other things.
“There is no dark side to nature,” Kya is also fond of saying. Till you put humans in the mix, that is.