Where the Crawdads Sing (2022) Movie Review & Ending Explained: Olivia Newman’s adaptation of Delia Owens’ best-selling novel Where the Crawdads Sing is such a mind-numbingly superficial film that die-hard fans of the source material will love it even more while the uninitiated will leave the theater wondering how the book ever sold millions of copies in the first place. The longer it proclaims to be fully invested in developing its protagonist, Catherine “Kya” Clarke (Daisy Edgar-Jones), as a figure of resilience and independence, the further it devolves into a preachy, predictable, and stodgy melodrama that thinks it can hide its glaringly obvious nods to Nicholas Sparks. With that kind of valiant effort, it does much to downplay the circumstances and urgency of those who have been brought up in the same kind of lower class lifestyle it purports to depict.
The film follows Kya as she builds a life of solitude for herself deep in the marshes of North Carolina before standing trial for murder in the neighboring town of Barkley Cove. The deceased in question is the town’s golden boy, Chase Andrews (Harris Dickinson), whose body was found at the base of an observation tower not far from the shack that Kya has called home her entire life. With the town’s kindly attorney, Tom Milton (David Strathairn), one of the few to identify with Kya’s humanity beyond the derisive “Marsh Girl” moniker the rest of Barkley Cove gives her, representing her, the paint-by-number trial acts mostly as a framing device for a series of flashbacks that detail Kya’s tumultuous upbringing, one that sees her mother (Ahna O’Reilly) and siblings abandon her and her abusive alcoholic father (Garret Dillahunt) one-by-one until, eventually, she is all alone.
At no point is Kya’s life as an outsider made to look abhorrent. She may live in poverty, but she doesn’t live in squalor, a notion misguidedly but repeatedly driven home by the respectable cinematography and production design from Polly Morgan and Sue Chan, respectively. She may not be as well-kempt or clean-cut as other girls, but she’s not an animal, either. Kya’s surprising lack of destitution requires a suspension of disbelief so strong that it expands to the few connections she makes in life. Ever the artist, she learns to read and develops feelings for another local boy, Tate Walker (Taylor John Smith), while finding a surrogate familial connection with Jumpin’ (Sterling Macer, Jr.) and Mabel (Michael Hyatt), a black couple who run a general store on the edge of town. In yet another thinly-sketched depiction of Civil Rights-era black life that wouldn’t even have worked ten to fifteen years ago, let alone in 2022, here are two characters who, despite their good intentions, bring little else to Where the Crawdads Sing other than their occasional care toward the white protagonist.
Kya’s romance with Tate gives her the courage to send some of her art into a publisher and she’s eventually able to publish a few field guides relating to the marsh. However, their fling is short-lived as Tate soon heads off to college. Her heartbreak has only just begun, for the temporary comfort she finds in Chase Andrews quickly deteriorates once she discovers his intentions are purely physical, and violently so. It’s in these moments when Kya is forced to define her worth that Edgar-Jones really elevates the role, unveiling the fragility and acumen the townsfolk are frequently unwilling to see since perceiving her as a wild card who’s one with nature in all the wrong ways is easier to do for gossip purposes.
Nevertheless, she never feels fully tangible as a character, whether it’s because her natural surroundings never punish her as they have so many others or because it doesn’t quite add up that the most enigmatic person in Barkley Cove is also a girl who, judging by her beautiful appearance and high moral character, should really fit right in without question.
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It all amounts to a film that never deems it necessary to dive deeper — and dirtier — into Kya’s world. Not much could ever come along to complicate a film that’s too comfortable in its own shallow skin to do so. Though the film’s setting is not considered part of the Deep South, it may as well have been set along the Mississippi Delta or Louisiana Bayou given the reserved, at-times implausible fantasy it projects toward Kya’s lifestyle while all but skirting around the marginalizing factors of race and class that no doubt affected the reality of the time in which it takes place.
It hides these darker truths somewhere deep in the marshes where no one can find them. This is a 21st century film both set in and made for audiences of the 1960s. No one will ever know if Where The Crawdads Sing would have been daring enough to address the issues it ignores had it been released sixty years ago or taken place within the last decade, but when a film this ostensible and disingenuous demands to be taken seriously, it struggles to find a place in the current filmmaking climate.
Where the Crawdads Sing (2022) Recap
Spoilers for Where the Crawdads Sing below.
Chase Andrews’ body is discovered by a pair of boys biking near the marsh’s observation tower on October 30, 1969. Barkley Cove’s Sheriff, Ed Jackson (Bill Kelly), deduces that he died the night before and that his death had to have been a murder since there are no visible fingerprints or footprints near the tower. Though Kya was not in Barkley’s Cove on the night of the 29th, having been in Greenville to discuss book deals with her publisher, Jackson is convinced that she is responsible for the murder after learning that the shell necklace given to Chase by Kya, which he was wearing the night he died, was missing from his body the next day. His suspicions are affirmed by red wool fibers from one of Kya’s hats that were found on Chase’s body. Thus, after a brief boat chase, Jackson has Kya arrested for Chase’s murder.
The Shell Necklace
Flashbacks reveal that Kya’s connection to Chase actually began around four years earlier after the two began seeing one another. He invites her to a picnic, where he makes a failed attempt to have sex with her. Feeling remorseful, he apologizes and decides to make it up to Kya by taking her to the observation tower, showing her the marsh from a different point of view. It’s at this time that she gives him the shell necklace and decides to continue their relationship after he promises her marriage. This promise quickly dwindles after the two consummate their relationship, and Kya ends things shortly after seeing Chase in public with his fiancée, Pearl (Caroline Cole), having realized that Chase was only using her for sex.
The Red Wool Hat
Tate Walker returns to Barkley Cove permanently after finishing college, and although Kya is hesitant to let him back in her life after he left without saying goodbye, she finds it in her heart to forgive him after he gives her his red wool hat to stay warm during colder weather. At the same time as the two are rekindling their relationship, she finds herself threatened by Chase, who repeatedly comes by her home trying to explain himself. These threats culminating in a heated argument, during which Chase attacks and attempts to rape Kya before she fends him off and promises to kill him should he ever attack her again. The entire incident is observed by a nearby boater, who later testifies against Kya in court.
Back in the present, Kya admits to her lawyer, Tom Milton, that she never reported the attack because she knew the town would only shun her for sleeping around. Milton condemns the prosecution’s arguments against Kya as far-fetched and implores the jury to consider the lack of solid evidence placing Kya at the scene of the crime. Though there is some speculation as to whether or not Kya was able to travel from Greenville to Barkley Cove and back again in the span of a single night, especially since the bus schedule would have allowed her to do so, the jury ultimately finds Kya not guilty despite the protestations of Chase’s family and many of the townsfolk. Kya retires into a quiet life with Tate in the marsh. The two eventually marry and Kya continues to publish more field guides before she passes away peacefully in old age. After her death, Tate searches for her will, only to discover one of her draft books with a drawing of Chase on the last page, followed by a hidden compartment on the inside cover containing the missing shell necklace.
Where the Crawdads Sing (2022) Ending Explained: Who Killed Chase Andrews?
Was It Really Kya?
The film concludes abruptly after this revelation, but all signs point to Kya as Chase’s killer. The film doesn’t explain how she lured him to the tower the night he died or how the red wool fibers appeared on his person, but given that Sheriff Jackson found an open grate at the top of the tower, it’s likely that, once she brought him to the tower, she lured him to the top and purposefully opened the grate so that he would fall to his death. Likewise, it’s also possible that the speculation regarding the bus schedule holds more ground than was originally thought.
Why Did Kya Kill Chase? Why Would She Take The Shell Necklace?
As for her motive, her abuse at his hands is certainly a contributing factor, one that is underscored after she returns home following his attack to find that he wrecked her house in a drunken stupor. Narrating to the audience, Kya explains a lesson her father taught her as a girl about how men often feel the need to have the last word. It would appear that she had hoped to have the last word herself by getting revenge. This would explain why she kept the shell necklace after so many years, as Chase’s death was, for her, a way of reclaiming the parts of her dignity and pride that he had taken from her. However, this sense of satisfaction is known only to her, and Tate to a lesser extent, and is the culmination of a secret that both will carry to their graves.