In a world obsessed with forensics and sensationalist crime, it’s easy to overlook the unsettling horror of the witch hunt.
While the name gives a sense of a heroic fight against evil, fictional and real-world witch hunts are events where the powerful create or exaggerate claims against vulnerable community members to gain power, wealth, amusement, or vengeance. These are the stories we tend to avoid, the ones that remind us of far too many uncomfortable truths about our society, our hierarchies of privilege, and ourselves. And it’s in that place between uncomfortableness and mystery that ‘Where The Crawdads Sing’ makes its magic.
Instead of the usual adventures of the extroverted and powerful, ‘Where The Crawdads Sing’ focuses its attention on a poor, unschooled young woman accused of murder. Kya Clark, more commonly known to the residents of Barkley Cove as ‘the marsh girl’ is an introverted young woman living alone outside of town after being abandoned by her family. When she is accused of murder with the barest of evidence, her lawyer must grapple with the realisation that there’s little room for the truth among all the whispers and rumours surrounding Kya.
Truthfully, having not read the book, I went into this movie pretty sure I knew the ending based on the trailer. After all, all the typical crime tropes are there, and it’s not uncommon for the best parts of the movie showcased in promotional media to accidentally reveal too much of the plotlines. And yet, the trailer serves as a spectacular red herring, promising you an easy, mindless viewing and then sucker-punching you into something requiring a lot more attention, with a twist that, for once, I didn’t see coming.
This is the sort of movie you can watch over and over, seeking out the tiny details to see what clues were overlooked on your first (or second, or third. . .) viewing.
It’s hard not to approach this movie through the lens of the renewed scandal surrounding author Delia Owens, a retired wildlife biologist currently wanted for questioning in Zambia around the televised shooting of a suspected poacher in 1995. After all, even Owens acknowledges the parallels between herself and protagonist Kya, a woman othered for her love of nature who is dragged into the more human world because of a possible murder. For true crime aficionados, the chance to speculate alone is worth the price of admission.
In fairness, lovers of often overlooked landscapes in cinema are likely to be just as thrilled as crime fans. It’s hard not to be entranced by the beauty of the marsh, to be so dazzled you might just overlook subtle clues. Add in some phenomenal acting, and a story that feels unsettlingly real, and it’s hard not to love ‘Where The Crawdads Sing’.
If you’re after mindless entertainment, this is probably not going to be your favourite movie ever. But for those wanting a compelling whodunnit with a stunning backdrop, ‘Where The Crawdads Sing’ is a not-to-be-missed feast for the senses.