in , , ,

Where the Crawdads Sing


‘…eventually settles for a fairly conventional Southern Gothic narrative with several plot points posted missing but a strong self-empowerment education message…’

Where the Crawdads Sing is one of the most talked-about films of 2022, and with good reason. From various sources, I’d heard it was both the best AND the worst film of the year, a gripping murder mystery and a complete non-event where nothing at all happens of note. Of course, it’s better to be talked about than not talked about, and while Olivia Newman’s adaptation of Delia Owens’ book clearly divided opinion, there’s no arguing that Where The Crawdads Sing turned out unexpectedly to be one of 2022 most popular and profitable films, a significant hit for Sony and producer Reese Witherspoon.

There are no singing crawdads, otherwise known as crayfish, in this film aside from metaphorically, but the flora and fauna of the North Carolina marshland are dramatically featured here. From the swamp emerges Kya (Daisy Edgar-Jones), growing up all alone after her abusive father chases her mother and family away, then abruptly departs himself. Kya is ostracised by the community of (fictional) town Barkley Cove, and when local boy Chase Andrews (Harris Dickinson) falls to his death from a remote fire-tower, Kya is suspect number one. A deliberately fractured narrative creates two time-lines; moving ahead with Kya’s trial as kindly lawyer Tom Milton (David Strathairn) defends Kya in court, and reaching back to the Kya’s past and relationships with various men, Chase, and Tate Walker (John Taylor Smith) as we attempt to get to the bottom of her culpability. Is Kya the murderer, or was she actually a witness to a crime?

Leaving the finance sheet aside, Where The Crawdads Sing gained in notoriety when rumours appeared about the author’s own past; the death of a poacher in Zambia was blamed on her husband, and Owens seems to have re-worked her own story as inspiration for Kya’s journey of self-empowerment. This isn’t a John Grisham courtroom thriller, and the mystery is left rather open-ended in Lucy Alibar’s script. A vague twist ending suggests that Kya was involved in a murder, or is an accessory to one, and parallels to Owen’s own situation are disturbing.

Wrapped up in a bow with a Taylor Swift song over the final credits, Where The Crawdads Sing is a very glossy showcase for beautiful performers and locations; hard-scrabble poverty hasn’t looked so enviable since The Color Purple, and Kya often looks more like a public-school princess awaiting her prom than a feral swamp-child. Chase and Tate regularly whip off their shirts, Twilight style, to reveal remarkable hot bods, and Crawdads eventually settles for a fairly conventional Southern Gothic narrative with several plot points posted missing but a strong self-empowerment education message. It’s certainly a well-produced and directed bit of counter-programming, but discovering that neither star nor director were in the loop with regards to Owens’ history suggests some subterfuge at work. Crawdads makes a strong case as to why it might be understandable for an abused girl to kill her tormentor, or not; it’s not quite the same thing when you’re fleeing the country due to avoid answering questions about the unexplained death of a poacher on your land.


Leave a Reply
    • Cool, review reads great. I can totally see why this film works so well for people, it is fairly compulsive, and probably the most profitable big film of the year. Maybe adapting popular bestsellers is one way for cinema to get audiences back…

  1. Fabulous critique as always. You poked the bear but it didn’t rise. Are all you folks saying you don’t like The Lady or the Tiger stories(Frank Stockton)/movies? I’m surprised. The rather lyrically, if overblown book does explain the crime a bit better and you get a deeper sense of this swampy area of NC, of which I’m familiar with via my B&B. Ambiguity is sublime. The Zodiac movie doesn’t reveal killer, nor does Black Dahlia, although in 2022 both crimes have been solved IMO. Jack the Ripper’s still at large. In 3 Billboards, killed never revealed. In the Pledge, the audience knows who killer is but not characters. In Rashomon, everyone’s lying…Black Christmas, I think, never shows the killer. Delia’s ex and son were accused of killing poachers, case still open. Seems a sublime kind of justice if they did kill the killers of rare animals, who thought the land and its creatures was theirs to mutilate and trample. The phrase ‘where the crawdads sing’ is a roadmap to the wildest part of wildernesses… Crawdads (crayfishes) do make squeaky little sounds, depending on situation, e.g., mating, danger, final hiss exiting from body segments, like lobsters when boiled…

    • Yes, but the crawdads may make noises, I wanted them to sing like in The Little Mermaid. Look, I love a good ambiguous ending, The Little Friend would be a good example, but this felt unfinished, and when you look at the authors potential reasons for writing this story, a little self-serving. I guess that’s why this is unsatisfactory to many as a story, and has a low audience approval on Rt despite being a word of mouth hit. It IS an interesting story, and I get the argument that its enough for Kya to overcome the local prejudices to get proclaimed innocent. But if she’s guilty, of murder or protecting someone else, what does that actually mean? And I don’t know enough about the poaching story to know whether the author was one the side of the good guys or not; bailing out and refusing to answer to the ongoing inquiry isn’t a great look, nor is not sharing it with the film-makers. Alex McKendrick noted that true ambiguity is offering a choice of possible meanings, not a cop out that doesn’t indicate anything specific, and I think that’s where this falls down for me…

      • Getting away with murder, something to really sing about…like in Chinatown, Rebecca, Murder Orient Express, Dexter, Memento, Tslented mr Ripley, Seven?, Crime & No Punishment… I suspect that folks that read book and saw movie can fill in more pieces? I think Q you asked is the big take away…what does it mean when someone gets away with murder/taking a life? The Afrique poachers were and are vicious killers and mutilators, not just folks looking for a snippet of hair souvenirs. The Gov’t doesn’t do much to help. Would you return to a country where death is always on the menu and risk being bogusly charged yourself?

        • No plans to visit America at the moment, will wait and see how the midterms go. But while you may be right about Zambia, I guess most us want to avoid being at the wrong end of a murder enquiry. Owens seems to have been quite emboldened by her experience, enough to dress up her story as the tale of an abused teen, a woke-positive appropriation which does sit badly with me. I guess you choose which country you live in and go along with their rules, effective or not, as Anne Sacolas is finding out. Crawdads feels like a story of a woman wronged by men who is proved innocent, which is good for most viewers. But the author’s back story surely muddies the waters? I guess for some people it’s the song not the singer, and that’s good for them. But how many of the texts you list have the protagonist revealed to be truly guilty? Kya could have killed in self-defence, but if she did, we need at least a clue about how that went down. All the front-loaded procedural stuff at the start just gets forgotten about…

  2. I’m really conflicted on my feelings for this film, and your review has not helped clarify! 🙂

    I was also not aware of the real-life controversy until after reading the novel and seeing the film, so I’ll mostly set that aside, other than to say that if the worst is true, it is rather bold to try to justify a murder you committed by writing a novel about it. That’s the plot of many a Lifetime TV movie!

    You’re dead on that she’s too pretty and clean – but I didn’t want her to be as dirty as she would’ve been to make it realistic. Her cabin was straight out of a Nicholas Sparks movie instead of Les Mis. But I sort of wanted that.

    Didn’t I?

    Then why did it leave me so empty?

    The book is at its best when it delves into her grinding loneliness; how’s she grown-up in a way that makes it impossible for her to live in “civilized” society. And yet these 2 very different boys fall in love with her (in their own way.) I could never quite swallow this even though I desperately wanted to – I have the same critique of the novel and film on this.

    And the execution of the murder is just too implausible.

    I didn’t hate it, I just so wanted to love it.

    And when the Taylor Swift song is the most memorable part of your film (and it is!), that’s a problem.

    • This is such a conflicted film, I’m glad to hear it’s not just me! Yup, that’s pure Basic Instinct plotting, if you’re involved in a murder investigation, to write a book about being involved in a murder investigation, because who would do that, right?

      Crawdads feels like its trading on our current vibe about domestic abuse, so it’s a bit of a shocker to find that the real-life case is not connected to that in any way, but to poaching in Zambia. That’s quite a stretch! Much as The Watcher taught me that making a crate of old pots and sending them to a gallery can establish you as a world class artist with zero effort, so Kya’s ability to buy her land and become an artist without a guide, mentor or any industry know-how was truly bizarre. But women looking to meet hot shortless men should note they’re going about it the wrong way if they don’t live as a feral child in a swamp; the hotties just rain from the sky!

  3. I never read the novel, but was drawn to seeing the film because of the book’s overwhelming success. For a number of reasons, I did not enjoy the movie. However, in leaving the theatre with my wife I mentioned it probably made for a very good book. While I didn’t like the way it was portrayed on the big screen, I considered what I saw as it might have played out in written form – in other medium – and could see where it might well be a most compelling novel. In fact, my suspicion in the instance of “Where The Crawdads Sing” was and is the filmmakers stayed quite true to those written words…which may be why I felt it wasn’t a very good watch. The ending in particular had my jaws wide, wide open. Spoiler Ahead Could not believe they didn’t show the actual murder in flashback. After an hour in the courtroom, and the killer goes free, you gotta show that. Got. To.

    • Agree. The murder isn’t shown in the novel either, it’s twisted in the same way. It works in the novel, but a novel isn’t a film. In a visual medium, you gotta show it.

      • Or show something other than finding a missing necklace, and yes, I know whay that’s important, but it resolves NOTHING!

    • Fully agree on all points. I spent the last ten minutes shouting ‘where is your ending?’; finding the necklace just wasn’t enough. Sure, it’s cool to be elliptical about drama, but a murder mystery where the solution isn’t shown? At all? Or even himted at? That’s going to infuriate people, and this isn’t some Donna Tartt or Bret Easton Ellis deconstruction of narrative here, it’s just…odd. Even if they were trying to be faithful to the novel, the squeaky clean cast and the ease with which a feral child meets strapping, gorgeous men lets any air out of the realism of this project. It clearly was the right film at the right time for audiences, yet despite word of mouth potential as counterprogramming, the Rotten Tomatoes score suggests there some buyers remorse..

  4. I saw it before the controversy was whipped up. Enjoyed it very much. Hard to show proper poverty though you could take a look at The London Nobody Knows to see the reality. I liked all the flora/fauna stuff and the mystery was intriguing enough.

    • It’s a good watch, and I can see why it’s been a big hit. But that ending raises a few questions, and the more you know about this story via research, the more questions it raises…

  5. Hard nope. Wasn’t interested in the book and I heard the movie was the usual Hollywoodization. It all sounds ridiculous.

    I keep getting calls from producers offering me money to whip off my shirt in a movie to show my remarkable hot bod. But I’m retired from all that.

Leave a Reply