Shawn O’Brate

When you first read the back flap on whatever copy of Where the Crawdads Sing you find, or whenever you first see the trailer for the new film adaptation of the book, you might be unsure as to what type of movie you’ll be in for if you see it this week at the Acme Theater on Main Street. 

Is it a courtroom drama? Is it a teenage angst romantic comedy? Is it a gritty drama about a girl all on her own? Well…it’s all of those in its own way. 

The story revolves around Catherine Danielle Clark, also known as “Kya” Clark, but more well known as the “Marsh Girl”. Everybody in the small North Carolina town around the marsh that Kya lives in knows her as the latter alias and only truly knows the rumors that surround her from years of not being a true part of their community. 

Kya, played by Daisy Edgar-Jones (Cold Feet, Normal People, Under the Banner of Heaven), comes into town to buy groceries after selling the mussels she pulls from the marsh–something she had been doing for ten years ever since her abusive father left her all alone at the ripe age of ten. He left shortly after all of her siblings left the violent household, which took place after their mother left first.

Raising herself in the marsh, keeping to herself, and only going to school for one day made Kya uneasy around people. She continually hides behind the trees whenever someone boats or drives to her home out in the middle of nowhere and she only converses with the two African-Americans who own the shop in town and buy her mussels. 

This is one of the reasons she is accused of murder in the first degree when a man dies from a fall off a fire tower in the swamp, a man with some red fibers that came off of a hat in her possession. 

The film starts and ends with the murder, but everything in between is well-paced flashbacks to pivotal moments in her life. Moments like the morning her mother darted away with a suitcase and a bruise on her face. Moments like when she meets Tate, a boy her age that eventually teaches her how to read, write, and love. And moments like when she is approached, manipulated, nearly raped, and beaten by the eventual corpse in the movie, Chase Andrews–played by Harris Dickinson (The King’s Man, The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance). 

Through the narration of Kya and the excellent courtroom presence of her lawyer, played by David Strathairn (The Bourne Ultimatum, Good Night and Good Luck, Lincoln), the film never seems to drag on with one particular section of the story. Switching back and forth between the courtroom drama and the love triangle between Kya, Chase, and Tate–played by Taylor John Smith (Hunter Killer, You Get Me)–the audience truly gets a full grasp of the trauma she experiences from her childhood all the way to her final moments in Chase’s presence before his death. 

But while the film, and the best-selling book, show the abuse and heartbreak that Kya feels they also show the success she creates with her late-in-life reading and writing skills. Her drawings of plants, birds, insects and everything else in the marsh make her happy and fulfilled thanks to the help of Tate. 

Trigger Warning: There were many scenes in the film that show explicit forms of domestic abuse and some scenes almost feel like they take it too far, but in the end the audience doesn’t feel as strongly towards Kya and her growth as a strong, independent woman without the serious scenes filled with backhands and rape. 

The ending of the film is a great encapsulation of everything that the movie provides, forcing the audience to wonder for the tail end and create their own ending as the movie takes on a very similar finale to Nicholas Sparks 2004 adaptation The Notebook before a somewhat-surprising reveal in the final seconds with a great call-back to an earlier scene that goes very unnoticed. 

Overall, this movie had a little bit of everything for every teenage and adult crowd but was extremely cheesy at some points and filled passionate, could-be romance scenes with strange lines from somewhat-cringey love interests. But, even if you think you know what this movie might be about, I guarantee it takes turns that you won’t see coming if you’ve only seen the trailer or just read the back of the hard copy book in the fiction section at the store.

Overall score: 4.5 / 5 Crawdads