Director Olivia Newman has turned Delia Owens best-selling southern gothic thriller into a frustratingly dull, bloodless that fails to truly interrogate southern poverty, prejudice or sexual tension.
The heroine, Kya (Daisy Edgar-Jones) is abandoned by her mother and siblings and left with her abusive father living in rural poverty in the North Carolina marshes. The book makes us feel the indignity of her poverty and the cruelty of the townsfolk that forces Kya to live as a hermit. But in this film the rough edges are smoothed over and her shack is expansive, sun-dappled and picturesque even before the make-over she can afford when her nature book is finally published. We never feel her hunger or otherness.
The same goes for her interactions with the two men in her life. Tate (Taylor John Smith) is the kind-hearted kid who teaches her to read and develop her interest in wildlife before leaving her for university - yet another betrayal in a life where everyone leaves her. Chase (TRIANGLE OF SADNESS' Harris Dickinson) is the local jock who uses Kya for sex and ends up dead with Kya defending herself in the courtroom drama framing device. In neither relationship is there any hint of sexual chemistry or emotional depth. It's all so.... plastic.
As for the rest of the film it's so cliched it borders on offensive. We have David Strathairn phoning it in, in a pastiche of the earnest southern lawyer made iconic in To Kill A Mockingbird. And a lot has already been written about Delia Owens' treatment of the two thinly-written and earnest black shopkeepers who take Kya under their wing. It's a shame that screenwriter Lucy Alibar didn't give Michael Hyatt and Sterling Macer Jr more to do in these paper-thin roles.
WHERE THE CRAWDADS SING has a rating of PG-13 and a running time of 125 minutes. It is now available to rent and own.