Review: ‘Where the Crawdads Sing,’ starring Daisy Edgar-Jones

July 12, 2022

by Carla Hay

Daisy Edgar-Jones and Harris Dickinson in “Where the Crawdads Sing” (Photo by Michele K. Short/Columbia Pictures)

“Where the Crawdads Sing”

Directed by Olivia Newman

Culture Representation: Taking place in North Carolina, from 1952 to the early 2020s, the dramatic film “Where the Crawdads Sing” features a nearly all-white cast of characters (with a few African Americans) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: In 1970, a 24-year-old woman goes on trial for murdering her ex-boyfriend, and her past as a poor and abandoned child is used against her in the trial.

Culture Audience: “Where the Crawdads Sing” will appeal mainly to people who are fans of the book on which the movie is based, as well as to people who are interested in stories about how people of different social classes are treated in society.

Taylor John Smith and Daisy Edgar-Jones in “Where the Crawdads Sing” (Photo by Michele K. Short/Columbia Pictures)

“Where the Crawdads Sing” has a lot of timeline jumping that will either annoy or intrigue viewers. The movie (which starts off very slow) gets better as it goes along and is elevated by a distinctive lead performance by Daisy Edgar-Jones. Fans of Delia Owens’ 2018 novel “Where the Crawdads Sing” should be satisfied with this cinematic adaptation, while other people who haven’t read the book might have more mixed reactions.

Directed by Olivia Newman and written by Lucy Alibar, the movie “Where the Crawdads Sing” takes on the challenge of telling a story that spans several decades. Just like in the book, the movie takes place in North Carolina. (The movie was actually filmed in New Orleans.) However, the timelines in the book and movie are slightly different. In the book, the timeline goes from 1952 to 2010, whereas the movie’s timeline goes from 1952 to the early 2020s.

The beginning of the film has some editing that might confuse some viewers. The opening scene takes place in the fictional coastal town of Barkley Cove, North Carolina, on the morning of October 30, 1969. Two boys riding their bicycles near a swamp have discovered the body of Chase Andrews (played by Harris Dickinson) underneath a fire tower. At the time of his death, Chase was in his mid-20s and a manager at a local auto dealership.

A medical examination shows that Chase banged his head from falling down the tower, and this head injury was fatal. However, police investigators have found no fingerprints nearby on the tower. And so, they’ve come the conclusion that Chase’s death was not an accident or suicide, and that whoever murdered him covered up the crime by wiping away fingerprints and getting rid of other evidence.

The movie then abruptly cuts to 23-year-old Kya Clark (played by Edgar-Jones) being chased down by law enforcement and put in jail. Inexplicably, a cat gets into her jail cell, and Kya cuddles with the cat for the night until the cat is taken away from her. Kya’s arrest for Chase’s murder is the talk of the town. Kya has a reputation for being a mysterious loner. And because she grew up poor, some people automatically think she’s trashy.

The evidence against Kya is very circumstantial. Kya does not have an alibi during the time frame (midnight to 2 a.m.) that investigators estimate was when Chase died on October 30, 1969. Not long before Chase died, he and Kya were seen having a fight outside that got violent. A witness saw Kya threaten to kill Chase if he ever came near her again. People close to Chase knew that he always wore a shell necklace that Kya had given to him, but the shell necklace was missing when his body was found.

On the night of Chase’s death, Kya was seen in her boat near the water tower. Kya denies it. She claims she was on a short business trip to see a book publisher in Greenville, North Carolina, and that she didn’t return to Barkley Cove until after Chase’s death. Witnesses say that they saw Kya leave and return from her trip by bus. However, she has no proof of where she was between midnight to 2 a.m. on October 30, 1969.

At a local bar, a retired attorney named Tom Milton (played by David Strathairn) is having a conversation with a few other locals about the case. Tom comments, “I’m retired. It’s not my business anymore.” But then, in another example of the movie’s not-so-great editing in the beginning of the film, Tom is then shown meeting with Kya and telling her that he wants to be her defense attorney.

The movie never bothers to explain how and why Tom changed his mind about coming out of retirement to represent Kya in this murder case. Very little is a told about Tom’s trial strategy for the case, or what kind of experience/background he has as a criminal defense attorney. If people are expecting scenes where Tom and Kya have meetings to discuss the case, forget it. Those scenes aren’t in the movie, except for a brief discussion where Kya tells Tom in no uncertain terms that she won’t take a plea bargain, which would have given her an approximate 10-year prison sentence.

What the movie does show are numerous flashbacks about what happened in Kya’s life before she went on trial for Chase’s murder, as well as riveting scenes from the trial that began in 1970. These flashbacks are not in chronological order, but the movie at least does show on screen the year in which a scene is supposed to take place. Viewers who are not paying full attention to “Where the Crawdads Sing” when watching the movie might miss some crucial details and might get confused.

Kya’s birth name is actually Catherine Danielle Clark. She is the youngest of five children. And she has lived in Barkley Cove her entire life, in an isolated house near the marsh. Her unnamed parents (played by Garret Dillahunt and Ahna O’Reilly) have a troubled marriage because Kya’s father is a violent alcoholic, who often beats his wife and kids.

When Kya was 6 years old (played by Jojo Regina), her mother suddenly abandoned the family and never came back. Kya actually saw her mother leave with a suitcase, so the trauma of this memory haunts Kya. One by one, Kya’s older siblings—sister Missy, brother Murphy (aka Murph), sister Mandy and brother Jodie—leave the household. Jodie is closest in age to Kya, so his departure hurts Kya the most.

In the movie, Will Bundon portrays a young Jodie, while Logan Macrae plays the teenage/adult Jodie. Toby Nichols portrays teenage/young adult Murph. Emma Willoughby (also known as Emma Kathryn Coleman) portrays teenage/young adult Missy. Adeleine Whittle portrays teenage/young adult Mandy. All of these siblings except for Jodie (who comes back to Barkley Cove years later) remain distant from Kya.

Kya is about 12 or 13 years old when she’s the only child left to live with her father. She still fears him, but she finds that he treats her better now that he doesn’t have to take care of so many kids. He’s also eased up on drinking alcohol.

However, he’s extremely bitter about his wife’s abandonment. When Kya’s mother sends a letter, Kya’s father angrily burns the letter in front of Kya. He’s also so enraged that he burns everything that reminds him of his wife.

Kya’s father has a knapsack of shells and feathers. After Kya’s mother left the family, Kya began using her mother’s watercolor paints to paint these shells and feathers. Kya’s talent for drawing art and her fascination with shells and feathers become major parts of the story.

As a child, Kya is often left alone for days when her father goes on gambling binges. And after one of these trips away, Kya’s father never comes back. She learns to fend for herself by catching and growing her own food. She also sells some of her food at the local general store, which is owned an operated by a friendly couple named Jumpin’ (played by Sterling Macer Jr.) and Mabel (played by Michael Hyatt), who have mutual respect for Kya.

Jumpin’ and Mabel know that Kya has been abandoned by her entire family, but they don’t want to report her to child welfare authorities because she is self-sufficient and isn’t causing any trouble. Kya is able to dodge any social services workers by hiding in the marsh if any authorities go to the home to visit. She gets the unflattering nickname Marsh Girl from people who know about her.

For most of her childhood, Kya is illiterate. On the one day she goes to school, she is taunted and laughed at by classmates for spelling the word “dog” as “god.” Kya runs away from the school and never goes back.

As a child, Kya briefly meets a boy around her age named Tate (played by Luke David Blumm), who is a friend of Jodie’s. When Kya is in her late teens and living on her own, Tate (played by Taylor John Smith) comes back into Kya’s life when she finds out he’s been leaving little gifts for her, such as booklets and supplies. Tate offers to teach Kya how to read and write when she finds out that she’s illiterate.

Just like Kya, Tate also comes from a working-class background and has a family tragedy that haunts him. His father is a shrimper. Tate’s mother and sister were killed in a car accident in Asheville, North Carolina. Tate feels tremendous guilt about their deaths because he believes that his mother and sister were in Asheville to get him a bicycle as a birthday gift.

Eventually, Tate and Kya become romantically involved with each other. However, their romance comes to an abrupt end when Tate goes away to college to pursue his dream of becoming a biologist. Before going away, Tate promised to keep in touch with Kya, but he never does.

Feeling abandoned and vulnerable, Kya ends up dating Chase, who ardently pursues her. He showers her with compliments and eventually promises that he will take care of her. However, there are some red flags about Chase, such as he doesn’t want to introduce Kya to his family. He also seems a little jealous that Kya is thinking about making money by selling her art as book illustrations.

Kya does indeed end up having a volatile relationship with Chase, which is why she’s the only suspect in his murder. What “Where the Crawdads Sing” does well is show how people who are abuse survivors see life in a different way, because they are often “on guard” or in “survival” mode. Kya’s experiences as an abuse survivor have a lot to do with the decisions that she makes in her life.

Just as in the book, the movie shows the outcome of the trial and who is guilty of Chase’s murder. How much people like the movie will depend on how much they’re engaged in Edgar-Jones’ performance. All of the other cast members are perfectly fine in their roles, but Edgar-Jones is utterly convincing in her role as this tortured soul, who doesn’t want people to see her as a victim. “Where the Crawdads Sing” certainly covers a lot of issues that have to do with how different social classes are treated and perceived, but the movie is also about not judging people by where they came from but who they are now.

Columbia Pictures and 3000 Pictures will release “Where the Crawdads Sing” in U.S. cinemas on July 15, 2022.

Review: ‘Fresh’ (2022), starring Daisy Edgar-Jones and Sebastian Stan

March 1, 2022

by Carla Hay

Sebastian Stan and Daisy Edgar-Jones in “Fresh” (Photo courtesy of Searchlight Pictures/Hulu)

“Fresh” (2022)

Directed by Mimi Cave

Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed U.S. city, the horror film “Fresh” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few African Americans and Asians) representing the middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: A woman in her 20s thinks that she’s dating her dream guy, but when he kidnaps her and holds her captive in an isolated house in the woods, she finds out that he has terrible secrets. 

Culture Audience: “Fresh” will appeal primarily to people interested in suspenseful “women in peril” movies with unusually ghastly surprises.

Jojo T. Gibbs in “Fresh” (Photo courtesy of Searchlight Pictures/Hulu)

The horror film “Fresh” is effectively terrifying and nauseating when the movie’s gruesome surprise is revealed. What will disturb many viewers the most is that it’s not just a contrived plot twist for a movie but something that could happen in real life. Because so much of what happens in “Fresh” is considered “spoiler information,” it’s best if viewers don’t know about this shocking plot development before seeing the movie. It’s enough to say that “Fresh” is definitely one of the more memorable horror movies that people can see in any given year.

“Fresh” had its world premiere at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival, so what happens in the movie was already leaked online by people who saw “Fresh” almost two months before the movie was set to premiere on Hulu in the United States. (Outside the U.S., “Fresh” is available on other Disney-owned streaming platforms.) Directed by Mimi Cave and written by Lauryn Kahn, “Fresh” has all the elements of what could have been a formulaic film about a young woman held captive by someone she thought was a “nice guy.” However, thanks to above-average performances from the cast members and a taut thriller of a story that’s well-directed, “Fresh” is anything but an ordinary horror film.

The movie’s protagonist is Noa (played by Daisy Edgar-Jones), who’s in her early-to-mid-20s, single, and looking for love, although she’s the first person to admit that she hates dating. Noa lives in an unnamed U.S. city that’s not on the East Coast, because on her first date with the man who will become her sadistic captor, Noa says that she’s originally from the East Coast. Noa is an only child. Her father is dead, and she’s estranged from her mother, whose whereabouts are unknown to Noa. This is information that she also tells on the first date with the man who will be her kidnapper.

Not much else is revealed in the movie about Noa’s life, except that she lives alone. Her sassy best friend (and apparently only friend) is named Mollie (played by Jojo T. Gibbs), who is openly queer or bisexual. Noa and Mollie met about seven years ago, when Noa moved to the area where they live now. Noa and Mollie also used to be co-workers, but it’s never revealed what Noa does for a living. Mollie currently works in an unspecified office job, where she’s seen using her computer to do some Internet sleuthing after Noa goes missing.

“Fresh” opens with a scene showing Noa on a bad date at a low-priced restaurant. It’s a casual date, so she’s wearing a sweater and jeans. Her date is a boorish egomaniac named Chad (played by Brett Dier), who gives Noa a sexist lecture about what she’s wearing on the date.

Chad tells Noa: “The women in our parents’ generation, they just cared more about how they dressed and how they looked. They were more into femininity. Nowadays, I feel like girls wear oversized everything, like it’s a blanket. I think you would look good in a dress—not that you don’t look good in a sweater.”

And to top off this date, Chad asks Noa for the leftovers on her plate, so that he can take this unfinished meal home with him. Needless to say, there’s no second date between Noa and Chad. When she tells him at the end of the date that she doesn’t think that they’re compatible, he calls her a “stuck-up bitch” before he walks away.

On a day after this bad date, Noa and Mollie are doing boxing exercises in a gym while Noa tells Mollie about this unpleasant dating experience. Mollie and Noa talk about a dating app called Puzzle Piece, but Noa has become cynical about online dating. Noa is also a homebody type, so going to bars or nightclubs to meet people isn’t really her thing. Mollie thinks that Noa is being too fearful and that Noa should take more risks when it comes to dating.

Noa is in a lovelorn state of mind when she goes shopping at a grocery store and she unexpectedly meets a handsome man named Steve (played by Sebastian Stan), who strikes up a conversation with her about grapes. Steve, who’s about 10 to 15 years older than Noa, has a somewhat awkward flirtation with her. She’s charmed by his apparent down-to-earth and self-deprecating nature, so when Steve asks for Noa’s phone number, she gives it to him without hesitation.

Steve doesn’t waste time in contacting Noa for a date. Their first date is at a mid-scale restaurant/bar. A bartender who works there is named Paul (played by Dayo Okeniyi), and he happens to be an ex-boyfriend of Mollie’s. During Noa’s first date with Steve, she tells Steve a little bit about her background, which is how he finds out that Noa lives alone and doesn’t have her parents in her life. Steve says that he’s a doctor who’s originally from Texas. “I work in reconstructive surgery,” he adds. Steve also mentions that his father is still alive, but his mother is dead.

When Steve mentions that he’s not on any social media, Noa says flirtatiously, “How am I supposed to stalk you now?” Steve quips, “You’ll just have to do it in person, the old-fashioned way.” At one point in the conversation, Noa blurts out to Steve: “I hate dating! People who believe in true love are fucking idiots!” With that comment, Noa reveals that she actually feels hurt and vulnerable when it comes to love. Steve is charming and attentive to Noa. He says all the right things and makes her feel attractive.

Although it’s not unusual for people to talk about their backgrounds on a first date, in hindsight, Noa could certainly be considered an ideal target for a kidnapper because of what she revealed to Steve on their first date: She lives alone, she’s an only child whose parents are not in her life, she doesn’t have a lot of close friends, and she doesn’t appear to have a job that requires her to work in-person with other people. It’s exactly the type of “profile” of someone who might not have a lot of people searching for that person if that person is kidnapped.

It isn’t long before Noa and Steve become lovers. Their relationship happens so quickly, Noa doesn’t have time to introduce Steve to Mollie, but she does tell Mollie about him. Soon after Noa and Steve have begun dating each other, he invites her to a weekend getaway at a place that Steve says will be a romantic surprise.

At this point, Noa and Steve have only known each other for about two weeks or less. It would be easy to judge and say that it’s too soon to go away for getaway trip with a lover you’ve known for less than two weeks. But there are plenty of real-life examples of couples who’ve moved in together after knowing each other for a very short period of time. “Fresh” realistically shows how easy it is for people to get caught up in quickie romances if the people in the relationship feel trust and have a mutual “connection” with each other.

Noa knows that things are moving very fast with Steve. Mollie expresses some concern too, but Noa sees no reason not to trust Steve, so she accepts his invitation to go on the trip, which they will take in Steve’s car. Steve tells her that they should spend the night at his place before they leave for their getaway destination in the morning. When Steve picks Noa up in his car to take her on this trip, she has no idea of what’s in store for her.

“Fresh” is yet another horror movie where the terror takes place in a remote wooded area. Steve’s getaway house is at a place called Cottage Grove. And because this is a horror movie, Noa soon finds out that she can’t get cell phone service in this isolated area. Not long after arriving at Cottage Grove, Steve hands Noa a drink. And the next thing that Noa knows, she has woken up alone in a room, with her right hand handcuffed to a bed.

Noa eventually finds out why Steve kidnapped her. The rest of the movie shows what Noa does to try to escape and if other people are involved in Steve’s sordid secret life. As this depraved kidnapper, Stan gives a chilling performance of someone with a “Jekyll and Hyde” personality. Edgar-Jones is equally riveting as the trapped heroine who has to use her wits to try to escape from this horrible situation.

“Fresh” also has another heroine: Noa’s best friend Mollie, who actively does everything she can to find Noa when Noa goes missing. Mollie doesn’t have a lot of information about Steve, so her search for Noa is very difficult during the period of time when adults can’t be declared missing with law enforcement until 48 hours after the missing people were last seen. “Fresh” shows a lot of cruelty, but the friendship between Noa and Mollie is really at the heart of the film.

And as gory and unsettling as “Fresh” can be, the movie has some dark satire that brings some twisted comedy to this otherwise very grim horror story. The movie uses 1980s pop hits, such as Animotion’s “Obsession” and Peter Cetera’s “Restless Heart,” in scenes to juxtapose this nostalgic pop music with the current torture that is being inflicted in those scenes. There’s also a memorable scene where Noa dances with Steve, in an effort to let his guard down and make him completely trust her. “Fresh” is Cave’s feature-film directorial debut. And even though there are some predictable elements to “Fresh,” it’s an impressive first feature film and an indication that Cave is a talented filmmaker to watch.

Hulu will premiere “Fresh” on March 4, 2022.

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