At the start of a story that’s more glossy than grit, we see a young woman being chased through the marshes of North Carolina by the police after a local golden boy of the town turns up dead. But Daisy Edgar-Jones simply looks too glamorous to be ridiculed and ostracized by townies as “The Marsh Girl,” otherwise known as Kya, in Olivia Newman’s shallow adaptation of the wildly popular 2018 book Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens. Kya is an outsider in her small town and learns to live off the land in the marshes, a natural talent that will prove useful later. She is abandoned by her family and isolated from the rest of the community except for two boys who both claim to love her but will later betray her. The latter of the two, Chase, is the murder victim we see at the movie’s start, and naturally, everyone is convinced Kya is the culprit.
Where the Crawdads Sing has potential but always seems to be missing something: there’s hardly any tension in courtroom scenes that should set you on edge as the theories of Chase’s death are revealed, and there’s a twist that completely misses the landing by breaking the age-old rule of “show don’t tell.” The film brightens when it focuses on the beauty of the nature Kya makes a home in, something that shines through in the original novel thanks to the author’s background as a naturalist. Though it would be irresponsible to decontextualize this compliment from how many moviegoers at the film’s screening could be overheard whispering about the similarities between the events of the movie and the author’s involvement in a 1996 murder while doing conservation work in Zambia with her ex-husband, Mark Owens.
There are a host of other things wrong with the film, from poor pacing, to a lack of character depth, to heavy-handed themes of a wannabe To Kill a Mockingbird but without the racial awareness. But Jones does her best with what she has to work with, and the movie may still strike an emotional chord with viewers if they don’t look too closely. PG-13, 125 min.