Where the Crawdads Sing Review: A Lush, Lyrical, and Engrossing Southern Gothic Drama

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The post Where the Crawdads Sing Review: A Lush, Lyrical, and Engrossing Southern Gothic Drama appeared first on Consequence.

The Pitch: Daisy Edgar-Jones has had a pretty rough time of it in 2022. First, she got kidnapped by a cannibal, then she was murdered by fundamentalist Mormons, and now she’s on trial for murder. The young British actress, who first broke out in 2020’s Normal People, headlines the new drama Where the Crawdads Sing, adapted from Delia Owens’s 2018 novel about a young woman named Kya who raises herself in the marshes of North Carolina in the 1960s, after her family abandons her.

As Kya gets older, two very different young men do their best to draw her out of her isolation: First, her childhood friend Tate (Taylor John Smith) teaches her to read and write and nurtures in her a love for studying nature, but leaves her behind for college. While she’s heartbroken by Tate’s departure, she becomes closer to local golden boy Chase (Harris Dickinson) — until the relationship goes sour, he gets violent, and eventually he’s found dead in the marshes, Kya the only suspect as to his unexplained death.

This is all teased out via flashback as Kya stands trial for Chase’s murder, with local retired lawyer Tom Milton (David Strathairn) coming to her aide. Tom has no hesitation in calling out the entire town for judging Kya as “the marsh girl,” an outsider not to be trusted, but it’s the judgment of the jury that matters most…

Things That Only Carolina Will Ever Know: If you didn’t know Where the Crawdads Sing was an adaptation of a book when the film began, by the time the credits rolled you wouldn’t be surprised by the news, as there’s a sense of more story than we know lurking at the edges of the frame, in the backstories of certain characters. But even with the limitations of just two hours of screen time, the film still manages to draw you into the rich, earthy, and untamed wilds that Kya calls home.

This is only director Olivia Newman’s second feature film, but she proves to have a strong sense of pace while drawing out the story’s lingering mysteries within the loose structure of a courtroom drama — things move fast, but never any faster than they should, with moments landing with just the right amount of weight.

Meanwhile, director of photography Polly Morgan also deserves praise for the beauty she finds in the marshland, from the tiny creatures that inhabit it to the full lush splendor of it as seen from above. Morgan’s prior credits include Lucy In the Sky, A Quiet Place Part II, and nine episodes of FX’s psychedelic superhero series Legion, not to mention the upcoming Viola Davis film The Woman King — a talent to keep one’s eye on.

Where the Crawdads Sing Review
Where the Crawdads Sing Review

Where the Crawdads Sing (Columbia Pictures)

And She’s in My Dreams: Speaking of which: Edgar-Jones, in just a few short years, has quickly become one of today’s most intriguing actors, and it’s hard to imagine literally anyone else capturing Kya’s innocence and intelligence as ably as she does. While not much effort is put into differentiating between barely adolescent Kya and her slightly older, more mature self, that almost seems to be the point, as if like the natural splendor she loves, time passes differently for her.

As for the rest of the cast, Garrett Dillahunt, as Kya’s abusive father, finds ways to showcase glimmers of the decent man he might have been, before the world broke him, while Sterling Macer, Jr. and Michael Hyatt play the older Black couple who take Kya under her wing, and deliver plenty of heart and sympathy despite the limited scope of their roles.

Of all of the supporting players, though, Strathairn is the clear standout — while there’s clearly more to Tom’s life than the film is able to capture, the veteran actor throws himself into the role of “simple Southern lawyer” with such genuine goodness that Atticus Finch himself would be proud to call him a colleague. It can sometimes be tough for summer releases to make waves during awards season, but Strathairn deserves serious consideration for his unshowy yet nuanced performance here.

Speaking of which, yes, Taylor Swift’s contribution to the soundtrack — the end credits song “Carolina” — is a perfect match for the content of the film as well as its mood. If the gods are being kind, they’ll let “Carolina” do here what an Andrew Lloyd Webber collab could not, and get Swift her first Oscar nomination for Best Original Song.

The Verdict: While executive producer Reese Witherspoon doesn’t appear on screen in Where the Crawdads Sing, the film bears her thumbprint as the latest in a series of visually lyrical, female-centric literary adaptations packed with mystery. The moral gets stated pretty plainly, more than once in dialogue as well as in voice-over — nature might be beautiful, but even the most beautiful of creatures will fight for its survival, no matter the cost.

The bluntness of its messaging proves to be a bit of a detraction, but the fact remains that Where the Crawdads Sing is a heartfelt, and gorgeous picture, the kind which major studios used to make all the time, and now feel like a bit of an endangered species. Fingers crossed that, like other endangered species that have come back from the brink of extinction before, Crawdads might achieve something similar for this particular subgenre of film, an engrossing two-hour trip into a whole other world.

Where to Watch: Where the Crawdads Sing steers its motorboat into theaters on Friday, July 15th.

Trailer:

Where the Crawdads Sing Review: A Lush, Lyrical, and Engrossing Southern Gothic Drama
Liz Shannon Miller

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