Based on the best-selling novel by Delia Owens and directed by Olivia Newman (First Match) Where the Crawdads Sing tells the curious tale of Kya Clark (Daisy Edgar-Jones – War of the Worlds) the young girl who after a rough upbringing finds herself at a young age having to fend for herself and grow up largely alone in the bayou area that she grows to love.
Surrounded by nature, Kya spends the day catching shellfish to sell and painting the creatures that she adores around her. Her life is turned upside though when Tate Walker (Taylor John Smith – Hunter Killer) and Chase Andrews (Harris Dickinson – The King’s Man) come into her life and she finds herself in situations that she just doesn’t know how to handle.
When one of those men (no spoilers here) is found murdered she suddenly finds herself the key suspect in a murder case. That is made worse by the fact that the townsfolk have always seen her as an outsider and firmly believe she is responsible – it suddenly feels that the only person that can help her out is retired lawyer Tom Milton (David Strathairn – Godzilla).
There is a stark harshness that sits just under the surface for the entire film – from the terrible treatment that a young Kya received from her parents through to those who seem to want to judge her for most of her life. In a lot of ways this is a nasty film but at the same time there is a beauty that also remains place and makes this a film that those who enjoy quality cinema should not miss.
That beauty largely comes from the way director Olivia Newman and cinematographer Polly Morgan (Lucy in the Sky) captures the flora and fauna of the bayou amazingly well and makes some of the shots contained in the film look like artwork that should be hanging in an art gallery.
Newman also needs to be congratulated for the way she keeps the pacing of the film going. This is largely a film that is a courtroom drama intercut with long scenes that are basically flashbacks. In the wrong hands that could have been the perfect recipe for a fairly dull film, but here Morgan makes it work perfectly well and it actually enhances the scenes that the audience see being played out in the courtroom.
The well-written screenplay by Lucy Alibar (Beasts Of The Southern Wild) also further enhances Morgan’s directing style. Her screenplay gives absolutely nothing away to the audience when it comes to who the murderer is. Normally a film like this can’t help but give away little bits and pieces throughout the film that hints on who the killer is, but here the audience is left completely in the dark, which is part of the reason why the film ends up being so much better than many will expect it to be.
Perhaps the real winner out of this film though is Daisy Edgar-Jones. This is not a film that is likely to win her an Oscar but she does use this film to show her acting ability. She carries large chunks of this film and does it amazingly well. Her scenes alongside the legendary David Straithairn are some of the best scenes of the movie and shows that she is certainly not left over-awed by her more experienced co-star.
Where The Crawdads Sing is far from the film of the year but if you are in the mood for a good murder mystery it is more than serviceable. It also reveals the work of a gifted young actress and a director and cinematographer that we need to see more work from. This film feels like a modern-day version of To Kill A Mockingbird and to that degree it works well.
Where The Crawdads Sing is currently screening in Phuket and is rated ‘13’.
David Griffiths has been working as a film and music reviewer for over 20 years. That time has seen him work in radio, television and in print. You can follow him at www.facebook.com/subcultureentertainmentaus