Where the Crawdads Sing

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I don’t really understand the poster for this film. That large picture of Daisy Edgar-Jones’ face just makes her look like she’s been drowned. Having the top or her head cut off by the image of the lake certainly contributes to this but mostly it is the way they have washed all of the colour out of the image, reminiscent of the dead women on the promo sheets for things like The Autopsy of Jane Doe or Twin Peaks.

Edgar-Jones’ Kya is no Laura Palmer though; she is not a murder victim, she is actually accused of committing one. I guess the poster design would work if it were a metaphor for how the marsh rivers oppressed her and effectively stole her life away from her, like the poster for Silence of the Lambs (that this also has echoes of) where Clarice Starling is effectively depicted as being ‘on the slab’. This isn’t how it is though; the place where Kya lives is everything to her.

They are clearly trying to say that no one knows the real her, the strap-line ‘Secrets are buried just beneath the surface’ supports this, but this doesn’t work either. It isn’t that she is a closed off as a person in this film; she’s guarded but not enigmatic. Most people don’t know what she is really like but that is because they don’t want to, not because she is unable to get close to people. The film actually goes to great lengths to show that she is not trying to keep secrets; she is accused of this violent crime but she is actually presented as very open throughout and hopes that people will see her innocence. Suggesting otherwise kind of defeats the point of the story and digs down into the mistrust around the character it is trying to dispel.

Sure, the imagery is eye catching and draws you in but I can’t help but feel that there is a certain lack of thought behind it all. Still, this makes it the perfect poster for this film because the same is true of the whole movie.

Where the Crawdads Sing is visually beautiful and has a mesmerising central performance but it is all just a veneer. I don’t know the book but I assume the strengths there are in the prose and characterisation because this is not a film that struggles to fit in a complicated narrative, like other page to screen adaptations. The film also holds few surprises which is not great when the plot revolves around a murder and the resulting court case. Others may disagree with me around the film’s predictability but while I will admit that I did not know every key narrative point before it occurred, each was always one of a few possibilities and a couple of the bigs ones were things I saw coming. There is a particular object that becomes important to one of the people in the story in a way that suits the narrative but totally defies any character logic. It is a classic case of taking Chekhov’s gun and shooting yourself in the foot with it.

There are a few other things I need to call out as well. Kya is remarkably well-kempt for someone that lives a simple existence in a watery wilderness. In one of the scenes where you see her as a kid they have spread some dirt over her checks, like she’s playing a chimney sweep in her Year Three class assembly on the Victorians, but generally she seems to look after herself pretty well. Then as she enters teenage she starts sporting Marshland beach chic which either consists of crumpled dungarees and a crisp white tee or an off the rack Summer dress from American Apparel, always with salon tousled hair. She really wouldn’t look out of place among the celeb set on Hollywood Boulevard.

Daisy Edgar-Jones and Harris Dickinson in Where the Crawdads Sing

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Sophie Turner and Joe Jonas in LA

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Also, the Southern State courtroom setting is very evocative of books/films like To Kill a Mockingbird and A Time to Kill only this time with a white person on the stand. I’d have loved to have seen this balanced with a black person as one of the court officials but it is a period piece so, while that is too often an excuse for not having equal opportunities casting, I’ll go with it here. There are a black couple in the film but in this context it is a shame that they play into ethnic stereotypes a little. None of it feels progressive.

Even with all of this though, I can’t say I didn’t enjoy the movie. Part of this is the cinematography which is stunning, with the film often looking like it is made by the North Carolina tourist board, but mostly it is Daisy Edgar-Jones’ magnetism. She was undeniably better in Ordinary People and Fresh but she is always a strong screen presence and even if her Kya is does not feel totally authentic she is irrepressibly likeable.

I’d assumed that a Crawdad was a type of bird but actually it is an US word for Crayfish. I can’t imagine that any song they would sing would be very sophisticated but maybe you’d be transfixed just out of curiosity and perhaps surprise at finding it well performed. This, in the end, is a better metaphor for the film than anything presented by the poster.

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The Ripley Factor:

There is a strong feminist theme to Where the Crawdads Sing, with Kya standing up against the aggression of various men. Like everything else though this is not presented in the most groundbreaking manner.

Kya herself starts out with incredible survival capabilities that serve both her and the plot very nicely, then as she moves into adulthood she becomes the mysterious object of affection for a couple of men in her town. In terms of the tropes this plays into it is as though she has started out as a Mary Sue before growing into a Manic Pixie Dream Girl. The film makes some moves toward dispelling these traits by making the whole story come from her point of view, but they never quite break away from these conventions.

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