All fiction is based on some kind of reality. From space to the future, all forms of fantasy incorporate real-world ideas to tell their extraordinary stories. Delia Owens' 2018 novel 'Where the Crawdads Sing', which has sold over 12 million copies worldwide, has recently come under the fire due to echoing a real-world murder case the she is still wanted for questioning over. With all that in mind, how does 'Where the Crawdads Sing' translate its tale to the big screen?
Out on the North Carolina marsh, Chase Andrews (Harris Dickinson, 'The King’s Man', 'Maleficent: Mistress of Evil') is found dead not to far from Kya Clarks' (Daisy Edgar-Jones, Disney+'s 'Fresh', TV's 'Normal People') house, causing Kya to become the prime suspect. The trial makes her reflect on her time living out on the marsh, from her family leaving her to fend for herself to the two loves in her life - Tate (Taylor John Smith, 'Blacklight', 'Shadow in the Cloud') and Chase. But the question still whether it was Kya who actually killed him?
'Where the Crawdads Sing' is an incredibly by-the-numbers murder mystery film. Everything plays out just how you would imagine, with very few twists and turns. Even the framing device is very lazily used; the courtroom setting should be the catalyst for flashbacks, but the film just goes back and forth without any real rationale. The structure is as follows: the murder and Kya taken to court, the first 20-minute flashback of her as a child, a short courtroom scene, a flashback sequence focusing on Tate, another courtroom, one more flashback sequence focusing on Chase, and then finally the trial. It’s extremely unexciting, and a lot of what is relived in these scenes feels very unrelated to the court case, with the film struggling to connect the two strands for the most part. You don’t feel like you’re putting together a mystery here - it feels like you're watching Kya's life play out, and the murder has little effect on that narrative until the climax.
'Where the Crawdads Sing' is an incredibly by-the-numbers murder mystery film. Everything plays out just how you would imagine, with very few twists and turns.
The real saving grace is Daisy Edgar-Jones. She steals the show, given the weak script, she really shines. She elevates the material, and without her in the starring role the film would be extremely boring.
Let’s talk about the two controversies surrounding the film. Both the book and the film have the terrible trope of a "white saviour" narrative. The only purpose of the two African-American characters, Jumpin' (Sterling Macer Jr, TV's 'NCIS', 'Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story') and Mabel (Michael Hyatt, 'Nightcrawler', 'The Little Things') is to help Kya on her journey. It's a toxic conceit, and the film could have easily added some background to these characters, but like the rest of the film this element just misses the mark. The other big controversy relates to the book's ending - which I won’t spoil, but as aforementioned, the author is still wanted for questioning over a real-life murder case, and her family fled the country to avoid questioning. Given the book's ending and this information, it’s an interesting choice.
'Where the Crawdads Sing' could have sailed by as fine book-to-film adaption thanks to Edgar-Jones' performance, but with recent developments surrounding the author, it's an easy miss. There are far better murder mystery films, meaning 'Crawdad' isn’t worth the trip to the marsh.