/‘Where The Crawdads Sing’ movie review: Of beauty, light, and the darkness within them

‘Where The Crawdads Sing’ movie review: Of beauty, light, and the darkness within them

Spectacular visuals of life in marshland and a narration with a strong hold on the text help a rather straightforward story

Spectacular visuals of life in marshland and a narration with a strong hold on the text help a rather straightforward story

There’s a rhythm with which Where The Crawdads Sing flows that makes the experience feel like reading a book. The frames are as soft as paper, the setting evokes the dimness of the pages of a lost book, and the slightest of details are written with long broad strokes, but the frames don’t flutter when they turn. Lucy Alibar’s screenplay of this Olivia Newman-directed movie has the right, measured pace to tell a rather straightforward story that is helped by beautiful shots of a lonely life in a marshland. The film is filled with textual and visual metaphors and just enough subversion to add more flavour.

Where The Crawdads Sing

Director: Olivia Newman

Cast: Daisy Edgar-Jones, Taylor John Smith, Harris Dickinson, Michael Hyatt

Runtime: 126 minutes

Storyline: Follows the life of a lonely girl who lives in a marshland. Abandoned by family and secluded by townsmen, Kya survives all on her own, but things change when a young man enters her life

In 1969, Catherine “Kya” Danielle Clark (played by a brilliant Daisy Edgar-Jones), a mysterious girl who lives in a marshland in Barkley Cove, North Carolina, is put on trial for the murder of Chase Andrews (Harris Dickinson), a young man from the nearby town. From the prison, Kya begins to tell the story of who she truly is. In 1953, as a young girl, Kya (Jojo Regina) witnesses her mother abandon her children to get away from her abusive husband. In the months following, Kya’s three siblings abandon her as well, and the child now has to live under the shadow of her father until he too leaves. Kya now has to fight, thrive, and learn to live all on her own. The narrative shifts between how the case moves inside courtroom and Kya’s life up and until, but Where The Crawdads Sing isnt a courtroom drama.

It’s primarily a coming-of-age romance drama that also speaks of nature’s relationship with humans, the irony and artificiality of the world of men, the darkness within nature and men, and so on. Being abandoned by family and cut off from townsmen — who despise her existence and spread rumors and tell tales about ‘The Marsh Girl’ — the marsh is everything she owns dear. The marsh nourishes her and comforts her in ways only she could know. Being raised in seclusion and told to beware of the dangers that bring in — ironically from the man who showed how men ransack the lives of women — Kya is bound to be wary of the townsmen. This, of course, changes slowly, for her best and worst.

Over the years, Kya finds herself two love interests — the sweet, blue-eyed Tate Walker (Taylor John Smith) and the manipulative, controlling, unstable youngster Chase Andrews. interestingly, both the men enter Kya’s life in similar ways, and they both hurt Kya advertently or inadvertently, but there’s something darker inside Chase that we can’t put a finger on initially. Yes, he comes across as a soft boy who wants to get into Kya’s pants, but there’s also something more darker and predatory about him. Even the colors of the costumes that he wears — colors are played with throughout the film — show him like the darkness that enters into the light. It’s commendable how even in the portrayal of these two men, the text keeps true to its theme and speaks of the duality of nature.

The most spectacular aspect is how the screenplay shows the cyclical nature of the life of people like Kya. While the apparent one is what’s shown visually when Kya realises what her mother felt when she left, the one the film lets us decipher is how both Kya and her father are creatures of this world that operate on two extremes, and how to survive, one has to go to the other side. Similarly, it is also pleasing to see how feathers and shells are used symbolically throughout the film. Kya believes that every living being of the marsh is in one with her, and having lived among them her whole life, the love for these beings is beyond fascination for nature’s creations. She is also a gifted artist who can sketch out the flora and fauna of the marsh impeccably. Hence, a shell with blood-red pigments might find itself in a bloody scene, the feathers of birds are used to symbolize a distinct courtship behavior that exists among some species of birds, and her sketches become a symbol of hope.

All thanks to the beautiful cinematography (by Polly Morgan), production design, and color grading, every frame seems like a painting. There’s something ethereal about this world that Kya lives in, and, interestingly, these shots happen to be shown most when Kya is at a place of comfort. The sequence in which Tate takes her out on her birthday to show a flock of Snow Geese is easily one of the prettier scenes. Though the dialogues are measured and, at times, very poetic, not all of them help the flow of the script. Some lines of Kya, that are meant to make us think of the unimaginable state of her existence, bring a certain unrealness that doesn’t necessarily throw you off but can be a needless reminder that the world you are witnessing is a mere construction that reflects a real world. While it’s commendable how the film tells a pivotal message against social exclusion and frivolous complexities of modern society, the film doesn’t dig deeper into the issues it seems to care about. Moreover, though we see the entire film from Kya’s perspective, this may not be your top pick of a good character study.

Where The Crawdads Sing may not be a perfect film, but it is a film that will make you want for more such well-paced storytelling and enough doses of heartfelt moments. But don’t leave in a hurry, for this is a film that tells a story till its end. Just moments before the screen dims down, certain darkness pervades through; the darkness that one was always made aware of; the darkness that the blinding beauty of it all hid behind. It’s as if someone just finished reading you a book, but you can still hear the whispers…

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