WHERE THE CRAWDADS SING (2022) – A DISAPPOINTING ATTEMPT TO TURN A LOVE STORY INTO A MYSTERY THRILLER

Where the Crawdads Sing is a 2022 American mystery thriller drama (basically even the director and producer couldn’t decide the genre) film based on the 2018 novel of the same name. It was directed by Olivia Newman from a screenplay by Lucy Alibar, based on the novel by Delia Owens.

The movie follows an abandoned yet defiant girl, Kya, who raises herself to adulthood in a North Carolina marshland, becoming a naturalist in the process, while falling in love twice. When Kya’s ex-lover and town’s “pretty boy” is found dead, she is the prime suspect and tried for murder.

The movie delves into Kya’s past mostly – her growing up with siblings and a father who physically abused their mother. Kya talks about her mother leaving her father who is an alcoholic and a gambler too, Kya’s mother and older siblings flee one by one, leaving Kya alone with him until he too abandons her at the age of seven. She survives by selling mussels at Barkley Cove’s general store where the store’s owners James “Jumpin'” Madison and his wife Mabel Madison, treat her with kindness and sympathy. The townspeople, however know her as the “Marsh Girl”.

Over the years, her slightly older friend Tate Walker lends her books and teaches her to read, write, and count. They share an interest in nature and begin a romantic relationship until Tate leaves for college and breaks his promise to return to her on the 4th of July, devastating Kya and destroying her dreams of a normal life.

Kya, in the meantime, has her nature drawings and writings published and the income helps her keep her home and land. Her older brother Jodie reappears and tells her their mother died before she was able to reunite her children. Jodie promises to visit when he can. Her two other siblings have disappeared though.

In 1968, Kya begins a relationship with popular local quarterback Chase Andrews, who promises her marriage. Chase gives Kya a small shell which she makes into a necklace and gives to him. A year later, Tate returns to Barkley Cove wanting to rekindle their romance, but Kya is unsure and with Chase. Kya however, ends her relationship with Chase when she discovers he is already engaged to another girl in an awkward encounter in town.

Kya rebuffs Chase’s persistent attentions and when he tries to rape her, she successfully fights off his attempt, vowing to kill him if he does not leave her alone. The threat is overheard by a fisherman. Chase returns to Kya’s home and vandalizes while she hides in the bushes destroying her paintings and shells like a spoiled, angry little boy who cannot handle rejection like a grown up.

Days later, Chase is found dead at the bottom of a fire tower from which he had apparently fallen. The muddy bog floods at high tide, destroying any tracks from the killer, and no fingerprints are found in the tower. The shell necklace, which he had been wearing on the evening of his death, is missing from his body. Kya is charged with first-degree murder and prejudged by the suspicious townspeople who considering her to be different, believe that she is a criminal as well.

Despite knowing Kya had been meeting with a book publisher in Greenville at the time, the police and the prosecutor speculate she could have disguised herself and made an overnight round-trip bus ride to Barkley Cove, lured Chase to the fire tower during the brief layover and killed him. With only the unfounded theory, the missing necklace, and the fisherman’s testimony, Kya is found not guilty at her 1969 trial.

Kya and Tate spend the rest of their lives together. Kya publishes illustrated nature books, and is frequently visited by Jodie and his family. While boating through the swamp in her 70s, she imagines seeing her mother returning to the cabin. Tate finds Kya lying dead in the boat at their dock,. Boxing up Kya’s things, Tate finds a passage in her journal saying that to protect the prey, sometimes the predator has to be killed. It is accompanied by a drawing of Chase. Next he finds the missing shell necklace, meaning that Kya had indeed killed Chase to save her herself from having to live in constant fear of him. Tate throws the necklace into the marsh water.

Now, the movie by itself isn’t that bad for what it is – a romantic love story full of hardships, lost love and disappointment followed by redemption. However, it is portrayed as a mystery thriller which it definitely is not. The “thrills” are nowhere to be found – not in the slow boat rides through the marshes, not through the hum-drum fake accents of two of the three primary cast members who are English and not in the courtroom drama which is dreadfully dull.

The movie is driven by a strong performance from Daisy Edgar-Jones who portrays Kya and David Strathairn, who portrays Tom Milton, the kind man defending Kya in her trial. The two male leads are basically just pretty boys who do not really do much other than give Kya a headache from time to time. Even their “fight” in one of the scenes involves one guy just punching the cap off the other. The Madisons play their part well, as the kind black couple who take care of Kya, in a town which treats them as outsiders too.

The movie is gorgeously photographed and makes the marshlands look like a magical place. Had it not been for the annoying characters, one could think they were watching a tourism advertisement for North Carolina.

JAY’S VERDICT

Go watch it if you like a romantic drama. Don’t watch it if you’re expecting a mystery thriller.

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