Where The Crawdads Sing: Massive twist redeems bizarre slow burner
Where The Crawdads Sing (15), (126 mins), Cineworld Cinemas
Your view of Where The Crawdads Sing is likely to depend on what you make of the massive twist with which it ends. If you like it, then a rather slow and baffling film will suddenly grow immeasurably; if you don’t, then it will be the final nail in a film which really doesn’t make much sense (unless you like the ending, in which case it probably does).
Set in the late 60s, it’s the tale of spirited Kya (the excellent Daisy Edgar-Jones), a young woman who has been abandoned by her family one by one and then led up the garden path by a drip of a college boy and a rat of a local lad.
You can count on the fingers of one hand the people who are actually remotely nice to the girl left to raise herself alone in the dangerous marshlands of North Carolina, for which efforts she gets nick-named “the marsh girl” and confronted by the endless prejudice of the town-dwellers.
We are talking late 60s, but even then was it remotely plausible that a community would allow a young child to grow up in total isolation? After all, she’s been successively ditched by her mum, her young brother and her abusive father. Is there no pity? But without them all and all alone, she learns true resilience – and develops a remarkable ability to draw, which even more implausibly, gets her a book deal. But it is the men that are the real problem. Resilience she might have, but street savvy she certainly hasn’t. College boy loves her and leaves her for college; the rat neglects to mention his fiancée.
And when the rat is found dead, on the flimsiest of evidence (some fibres connecting her to the scene) and little to convince anyone that the dead man was actually murdered anyway, Kya finds herself in court on a capital charge with the prosecution demanding the death penalty.
This is pretty much how it starts, with the rest of it told in chronological flashback as the past catches up with the present. Given what’s at stake, you’d expect the film to be much more fraught, much much more tense. Instead it smoulders, for the most part giving every impression of something really rather Nicholas Sparks-ish going on here. Mid-film it even starts to seem like a rather lame Nicholas Sparks.
For a long while the film’s principal virtue is simply that it is beautifully shot. There are some gorgeous scenes, but mostly we don’t seem to be going anywhere particularly – and we certainly aren’t travelling anywhere that carries conviction. An entire community (with a few noble exceptions) has turned on an abandoned child who has grown into a wilful but vulnerable young woman. Collectively they have now decided that she is guilty of murder.
If this is setting out to be a film about prejudice, surely you’d hope for something that rang a little truer.
But then that ending.
And suddenly it’s a much better film, much more coherent and actually rather haunting. It will certainly split the audience, though.
Others wandered out at the end complaining that it was the ultimate nonsense in a disappointing adaptation. I’m now liking the film more and more.