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  • Colin Fraser


THREE STARS A young woman from the wrong side of town is accused of murdering her boyfriend.

Starring Daisy Edgar Jones, Taylor John Smith

Olivia Newman makes her move from the small to big screen directing this adaptation of Delia Owens’ best-seller, WHERE THE CRAWDADS SING. It’s said that the book is something of a soap opera, so to that end, Newman is right on target.

Here’s the story of an outsider, a ‘marsh girl’ who, despised by town folk for her poverty, is accused of murdering her popular, college-jock boyfriend. While the book had its fans, the film is an awkward mix of Southern gothic and court house drama that gets well and truly bogged in the swamp.

Daisy Edgar Jones (WAR OF THE WORLDS) is the ‘marsh girl’ who, abandoned by her family, lives by the river mouth. Dad is a violent drunk and, one by one, his wife and kids all leave him to wallow in his misery. Only Kya remains. Time passes, Dad dies and Kya falls for nice-guy Tate who teaches her to read and write. But college calls and like her family, he also abandons the girl.

Distraught, Kya takes up sketching wildlife and strikes a deal with a publishing house, then strikes up a romance with everyone’s favourite college boy, Chase Andrews. But he’s not what he seems and this poor relationship comes to an abrupt end when the young man washes up dead in the swamp. All eyes turn to Kya the outcast, the murderous ‘marsh girl’ with a motive.

Of course she denies culpability, which lets the story explore themes of discrimination, exclusion, racism, misogyny and abuse. Cheery stuff. By the time we reach the courtroom, there’s an echo of TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD about proceedings with David Strathairn as an Atticus Finch wannabe who defends Kya from the braying mob.

Despite the soap operatic structure, there’s some great potential here. WHERE THE CRAWDADS SING is handsomely staged and filmed, with Edgar Jones doing a solid job as Kya. Yet the story never builds a head of steam as each event clearly signposts the next. This inevitability drains any tension from the narrative, leaving Owen’s big ideas to flounder in the marsh. Support characters are predictable, plain even, and no one is given any opportunity to get past a pre-packaged version of ‘their issue’.

Come the happy ending (it was always going to be thus), the overlong runtime has made itself felt. As a tired friend succinctly put it, ‘there’s no chomp in this swamp’.



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