Where the Crawdads Sing
Adapting Delia Owens’s 2018 best-selling novel of the same, Olivia Newman offers a tepid yet silkily packaged plea to the academy in Where the Crawdads Sing, a film which feels as though it has concocted an amalgam of every Oscar-friendly genre in an attempt to cover all bases.
Part mystery, part courtroom drama, part coming-of-age fairytale, with a dash of civil rights drama for good measure, Where the Crawdads Sing follows Catherine “Kya” Clark, whose feral resourcefulness and exclusion from conventional society is well captured in young adulthood by Daisy Edgar-Jones, and in childhood by Jojo Regina. After a relatively happy childhood in the North Carolina marshes, about which Kya eulogises in almost spiritual terms, a friend rather than simply a home, her father’s abusiveness escalates, driving her mother and brother away from the marsh’s idyllic exclusion. Left to fend for herself, Kya becomes something of a living legend in the town of Barkley Cove, known there simply as “marsh girl”. When Chase Andrews (Harris Dickinson), a boy Kya had been in an ambivalent relationship with, is found dead in the marsh, all the evidence points toward his murder at the hands of the young girl. The film’s narrative is thus split into two timelines which eventually meet, one following the ongoing trial, the other charting Kya’s childhood and early adulthood.
Owens, the author of the source material, as well as being an eminent writer, is also a fierce conservationist, and has, with her husband, Mark, courted controversy through their Zambian settlement, where they have been accused of condoning and encouraging a shoot-to-kill policy for suspected poachers, as well as gross mistreatment of the local population, leading Jeffrey Goldberg of The Atlantic to describe the Owens’s story as more closely resembling Heart of Darkness than Born Free.
The obsession with the sanctity of nature shines through the movie like glimmering sunlight through the saturated tree-tops of the marsh, with philosophical musings on the circle of life coming on heavy during the film’s coda. For all the Conrad-esque madness of the Owens’s obsession with the African landscape which preceded the novel, however, Where the Crawdads Sing has its feet firmly planted in Oscar-bait territory, dancing to all the emotional beats you’d expect from such an offering, and as safe and baggy as any of the most underwhelming Best Picture nominees of recent times. For an ode to the dirt and grit of mother nature, the film keeps its fingernails conspicuously clean.
Where the Crawdads Sing is released nationwide on 22nd July 2022.
Watch the trailer for Where the Crawdads Sing here: