Review: ‘Breakwater’ (2023), starring Dermot Mulroney, Darren Mann, Alyssa Goss, Sonja Sohn, Celia Rose Gooding and Mena Suvari

January 2, 2024

by Carla Hay

Darren Mann and Alyssa Goss in “Breakwater” (Photo courtesy of Vertical)

“Breakwater” (2023)

Directed by James Rowe

Culture Representation: Taking place in North Carolina and in Virginia, the dramatic film “Breakwater” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with some African Americans) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: An ex-con tracks down the estranged daughter of a fellow prisoner as a favor but finds out that this favor is not what it appears to be. 

Culture Audience: “Breakwater” will appeal primarily to people who don’t mind watching predictable and not-very-believable crime thrillers.

Dermot Mulroney in “Breakwater” (Photo courtesy of Vertical)

“Breakwater” starts off being a mediocre thriller, but then it goes swiftly downhill in the last third of the movie, when it crams in too many far-fetched plot twists. It doesn’t help that the movie’s protagonist is dimwitted and boring. Unfortunately, the trailer for “Breakwater” reveals about 85% of what happens in the last third of the movie, including a few of the plot twists that should be surprises. Therefore, anyone who sees the trailer before watching “Breakwater” will be even more bored, because of the long and often tedious wait to get to the expected climactic showdown.

Written and directed by James Rowe, “Breakwater” had the potential to be a much better film if it hadn’t relied so much on tiresome clichés. The movie is also plagued by mediocre-to-bad performances from many of the principal cast members. The “hero” and the “villain” in the story have one-dimensional personalities. It all adds up to a frequently flat cinematic experience that becomes the most cringeworthy in the last third of the movie.

“Breakwater” centers on a gullible young man named Dovey (played by Darren Mann, giving a very stiff performance), who was sent to a Virginia prison for drug possession. (“Breakwater” was actually filmed in North Carolina.) Viewers find out later that Dovey took the blame for the crime, in order to protect the guilty woman whom he didn’t want to go to prison. It’s an example of how Dovey is overly generous and can be taken advantage of by the wrong people.

In the beginning of the movie, Dovey is spending his last day in prison before he is released. A fellow inmate named Ray Childress (played by Dermot Mulroney) has somehow gotten a slice of cake inside a cell and gives it to Dovey as a “birthday” present, because Ray says that getting out of prison is a rebirth. Ray asks Dovey for a big favor when Dovey is out of prison: Ray wants Dovey to find his estranged adult daughter Marina, who hasn’t seen or spoke to Ray in about seven years.

Ray has an idea where Marina is because he saw a woman who looks just like her in a newspaper photo published with a story about the mast of a 19th century ship being found off the coast of North Carolina. The mast is still standing upright in the ocean before it will be transported somewhere to be examined. Marina was one of the onlookers in the photo.

Ray says that if Dovey finds Marina, then Dovey cannot tell Marina that Ray is looking for her. Ray also says he just wants Dovey to tell him where Marina lives or works and if Marina is doing okay. Dovey agrees to do this favor out of the goodness of his heart and because he respects Ray, who became his friend in prison. Dovey doesn’t expect anything in return.

Even though Mena Suvari is a headliner for this movie, she has a useless cameo that lasts for less than five minutes. She portrays a bartender named Kendra, who has a thing for ex-cons and tries to seduce Dovey soon after he gets out of prison and he becomes a customer in the bar where she works. Their brief encounter ends awkwardly when Dovey doesn’t go for Kendra’s kink of having an ex-con pretend to kill her while having sex.

Before going to North Carolina’s Outer Banks, where Marina is believed to be living, Dovey goes home to spend time with his fisherman father Luther (played by J.D. Evermore), whose specialty is crab fishing. Luther is happy to have Dovey working with him again on Luther’s small fishing boat. However, Dovey doesn’t stay for very long before he hops on his motorcycle to go to North Carolina to find Marina.

It should come as no surprise that Dovey finds her, except she is now going by the name Eve (played by Alyssa Goss), and she is the single mother of a daughter named Harper (played by Ezra DuVall), who’s about 5 or 6 years old. Harper and Eve live with Eve’s roommate Jess (played by Celia Rose Gooding), a pop/R&B singer who gets gigs at local restaurants/bars. “Breakwater” barely shows what kind of mother Eve is until the problematic last third of the movie.

Eve, who is friendly but foul-mouthed in her personal life, seems to be financially struggling. She is juggling jobs at a bookstore and as a tour guide for Outer Banks historical locations. Dovey charms Eve when they first meet by telling her that they share a passion for ships and sea history. He also tells her that he grew up spending a lot of time in the water. Dovey and Eve’s attraction to each other goes exactly where you think it will go.

Eve decides to take Dovey to a rocky coast area so he can get a better look at the mast from the 19th century shipwrecked boat. She accidentally drops a bracelet that she says was given to her by her father. The bracelet has sunk into the water, but Dovey decides he’s going to be a gallant gentleman, so he dives in the water to retrieve the bracelet and gives it back to Eve, who is flattered by and grateful for this kind gesture. Dovey later describes the bracelet to Ray in a phone conversation, which is how Ray knows that Dovey found the right person.

Of course, since it was already revealed in the movie’s trailer, Ray has sinister reasons to find Eve. Dovey’s no-nonsense parole officer Bonnie Bell (played by Sonja Sohn) becomes involved in this mess when she finds out that Dovey has violated his parole by crossing state lines without permission. It all leads to a very hokey conclusion with ridiculous-looking action scenes and plot “reveals” that sink the movie faster than you can say “forgettable, low-quality movie.”

Vertical released “Breakwater” in U.S. cinemas, digital and VOD on December 22, 2023.

Review: ‘Devil’s Peak,’ starring Billy Bob Thornton, Hopper Penn, Brian d’Arcy James, Jackie Earle Haley and Robin Wright

April 15, 2023

by Carla Hay

Hopper Penn and Robin Wright in “Devil’s Peak” (Photo courtesy of Screen Media Films)

“Devil’s Peak”

Directed by Ben Young

Culture Representation: Taking place in Jackson County, North Carolina, the dramatic film “Devil’s Peak” features an all-white cast of characters representing the working-class, middle-class and criminal underground.

Culture Clash: A young man tries to start a life apart from his drug-dealing father, who expects him to take over this family’s criminal business, while the father of the young man’s girlfriend is the district attorney who has been targeting the drug-dealing father in a sting operation. 

Culture Audience: “Devil’s Peak” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in watching convoluted and fake-looking crime dramas.

Billy Bob Thornton in “Devil’s Peak” (Photo courtesy of Screen Media Films)

The novelty of real-life mother-and-son duo Robin Wright and Hopper Penn portraying a mother and a son in “Devil’s Peak” is not enough reason to watch this dreadful crime drama with a putrid plot and subpar acting. Almost nothing in this flop is believable. It’s the type of dreck that is overstuffed with bad dialogue and ridiculous plot twists that add up to a complete waste of time.

Directed by Ben Young, “Devil’s Peak” is based on David Joy’s 2015 novel “Where All Light Tends to Go.” Robert Knott wrote the low-quality adapted screenplay for “Devil’s Peak.” Just when you think the movie can’t get any worse, the last 15 minutes are such a pile-on of utter stupidity, it will have viewers rolling their eyes more than the tweaking meth addicts who are the customers of the drug-dealing family at the center of the story.

“Devil’s Peak” opens with a scene of a terrified-looking guy in his late teens named Jacob McNeely (played by Penn), who is half-crouched behind his truck that’s parked on an deserted road. He’s pointing his rifle at an approaching car and has the stance of someone who’s expecting a shootout. The movie circles back to this scene in the last third of the film to reveal who’s in this showdown with Jacob.

Viewers will know from the beginning of “Devil’s Peak” to brace for some bad dialogue when Jacob is heard saying in this voiceover narration: “In Jackson County, North Carolina, my family name meant something. Our family was a matter of blood, just like hair color and height. By the time I was 9 or 10, Daddy had me breaking down big bags of crystal meth.”

Jacob continues, “He got them from the Mexicans through his biker buddy Ed McGraw. The auto shop was a front, where I worked with Gerald Cabe and his skinny-ass brother Jeremy Cabe. They were the ones who did Daddy’s dirty work. And everyone in these parts knew he was not the kind of man you want to cross.”

If you can get past the ridiculousness that a guy who’s being groomed by his father to be a menacing drug dealer is still calling his father “Daddy,” there’s still more phony garbage to come in “Devil’s Peak.” It doesn’t help that many of the cast members either over-act or their acting is too stiff. Try not to laugh at the cringeworthy utterings of Jacob as he continues to tell his story in voiceover narration.

“Even though they were mean as hell,” Jacob says, “the Cabe brothers were the closest thing I had to kin. Methamphetamine was a living, breathing body in Jackson County. Daddy was the heart-pumping blood in every vein in the region.”

Jacob continues, “I got a cut from the sales, like most kids got allowance. But Daddy held on to my money. Maybe it’s a life I could’ve accepted, like generations of McNeelys had done before me, But Maggie Jennings, she made it so I couldn’t.”

Viewers soon find out that Maggie (played by Katelyn Nacon) is Jacob’s 18-year-old girlfriend, who lives with her mother and stepfather in an upper-middle-class part of Jackson Country. Maggie is a “good girl” who plans to go to the University of North Carolina Wilmington. Maggie wants Jacob to go to the same university with her at the same time.

But Jacob’s ruthless father Charlie McNeely (played by Billy Bob Thornton) has other plans for Jacob: He expects Jacob to stay in the family’s meth distribution business. Charlie says to Jacob at one point in the movie: “We did not choose this way of life. It chose us. It’ll be that way until we ain’t breathing.”

And to make matters more complicated, Maggie’s stepfather is district attorney Bob Jones (played by Brian d’Arcy James), who is up for re-election and has been targeting Charlie and his gang for a major drug bust. Bob has secrets that are eventually revealed in the movie. The secrets should come as no surprise to viewers who’ve seen enough of these types of films where politicians can be just as corrupt as the criminals.

As a money-laundering cover for his drug dealing, Charlie owns and operates a mechanic shop called McNeely’s Automotive. All of the men who work at the shop, including Jacob, are really part of the McNeely drug gang. The aforementioned brothers Jeremy Cabe (played by Jared Bankens) and Gerald Cabe (played by David Kallaway) are stereotypical sleazeballs. (The story in “Devil’s Peak” takes place in North Carolina, but the movie was actually filmed in Georgia.)

One of the worst and most unbelievable things about “Devil’s Peak” is that the McNeelys are supposedly the most powerful drug-dealing family in Jackson County for generations, with the current district attorney intent on busting them. But only two cops are part of this story: Sheriff Rogers (played by Jackie Earle Haley) has been in law enforcement in Jackson County for years and knows all about the McNeely family. A junior officer named C. Bullock, also known as Bull (played by Harrison Gilbertson), is a hothead bully who likes to pick on Jacob.

Sheriff Rogers has a soft spot for Jacob’s mother Virgie (played by Wright), a forlorn meth addict who has been trying unsuccessfully for years to conquer her addiction and clean up her act. Virgie and Charlie have been divorced since Jacob was a child. Charlie is still bitter because Virgie cheated on him when they were married, but viewers will get the impression that hypocrite Charlie isn’t exactly the “faithful spouse” type either.

Virgie is currently down on her luck, unemployed, and living in near-poverty. She doesn’t have a car, but sympathetic Sheriff Rogers sometimes gives her car rides and looks out for Virgie as much has he can. The movie shows hints that Sheriff Rogers probably has romantic feelings for Virgie. Because of her drug addiction, Virgie has been in and out of Jacob’s life. Charlie has been the parent who has primarily raised Jacob. And Charlie doesn’t let Jacob forget it.

As the emotionally broken Virgie, Wright gives perhaps the closest thing to an authentic-looking performance in “Devil’s Peak.” Unfortunately, she’s not in the movie for very long (her screen time is less than 20 minutes), and her scenes consists mostly of Virgie apologetically trying to reconnect with Jacob, or Virgie defensively trying to convince suspicious Charlie that she’s not a confidential informant for the police. Virgie is openly driving around with Sheriff Rogers in his squad car, so it’s no wonder that Charlie thinks that desperate drug addict Virgie might be getting paid to set up Charlie to get arrested.

Charlie has a girlfriend who’s young enough to be his daughter. Her name is Josephine, nicknamed Josie (played by Emma Booth), and she goes along with whatever Charlie wants. Josephine shows a little bit of sassiness and occasionally talks back to Charlie, but he’s really the one in control of the relationship. “Devil’s Peak” is ultimately a male-dominated movie where the few female characters in the film just react to whatever the men are doing.

The rest of “Devil’s Peak” involves murders, a kidnapping, chase scenes and a race against time for people who want possession of Charlie’s hidden stash of cash. Thornton’s portrayal of Charlie is a caricature of a villain, with every action utterly predictable and soulless. Penn, who pouts his way through his performance, lacks charisma in his role as protagonist Jacob. And that’s a problem when viewers are supposed to be rooting for the protagonist.

“Devil’s Peak” tries to cram in too many “surprises” in the last 15 minutes of the film. It all looks so fake, because the movie makes it look like there are only two cops in Jackson County who are dealing with the huge mess that Charlie causes in this story. There are many more than two people to blame for the mess that is “Devil’s Peak.”

Screen Media Films released “Devil’s Peak” in select U.S. cinemas on February 17, 2023. The movie was released on digital and VOD on February 24, 2023.

Review: ‘Abandoned’ (2022), starring Emma Roberts, John Gallagher Jr. and Michael Shannon

July 24, 2022

by Carla Hay

John Gallagher Jr., Emma Roberts and Marie May in “Abandoned” (Photo courtesy of Vertical Entertainment)

“Abandoned” (2022)

Directed by Spencer Squire

Culture Representation: Taking place in the fictional small town of Duboisville, North Carolina, the horror film “Abandoned” features an all-white cast of characters representing the middle-class and working-class.

Culture Clash: A husband and a wife move into an isolated house that was abandoned for years, and then sinister things starts to happen. 

Culture Audience: “Abandoned” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of star Emma Roberts and to viewers who don’t mind watching shoddily made and monotonous horror movies.

Michael Shannon in “Abandoned” (Photo courtesy of Vertical Entertainment)

“Abandoned” is how to describe any hope that viewers might have that this dull and idiotic horror flick will be scary or interesting. It’s the type of derivative haunted house movie that’s just recycled trash. The terrible ending of “Abandoned” is just one of many examples of how this creatively bankrupt dud fails at even ripping off good horror movies.

Directed by Spencer Squire, “Abandoned” is so bad, it looks like the stars of the movie don’t really want to be there. Erik Patterson and Jessica Scott co-wrote the atrocious “Abandoned” screenplay, which tepidly regurgitates over-used plot devices that have been in dozens of movies about haunted houses.

There’s the family moving into a house that has a sinister history, but the family doesn’t know or doesn’t care. The house is usually in an isolated area. And there’s usually at least one young child in the house, in order for viewers to be more alarmed that any evil spirits lurking around could harm the child or children.

All of these clichés on their own or together don’t necessarily mean that a movie is going to be horrible. It’s when a movie does nothing compelling with these clichés that the filmmaking becomes lazy and irritating. “Abandoned” is an example of what not to do when making a movie about a haunted house.

“Abandoned” opens with an exterior scene of an isolated farmhouse in the fictional small town of Duboisville, North Carolina. (The movie was actually filmed in Smithfield, North Carolina.) An unseen young female can be heard screaming in the house: “You promised me I could keep one!” And then, gunshots are heard.

Forty years later, married couple Sara Davis (played by Emma Roberts) and Alex Davis (played by John Gallagher Jr.) are being given a tour of the house by a real-estate agent named Cindy (played by Kate Arrington), who is nervously eager to make this sale. Sara and Alex have brought their infant son Liam (played by Marie May) with them. Liam seems to get agitated as soon as they go inside the house, and he begins crying. Get used to hearing a baby shrieking and crying, because this movie overloads on these sound effects.

Of course, viewers can easily deduce from the opening scene that this house’s history includes at least one brutal murder. Unlike other haunted house movies where the new residents didn’t bother to get that background information, “Abandoned” has the house buyers getting that information before they purchase the house. Predictably, the house is being sold at a “too good to be true” bargain, but the house has been on the market for years.

Sara asks Cindy why the house has been for sale for such a long period of time. Alex quickly says, “I don’t want to know.” Sara responds in an insistent tone, “I want to know.” Cindy then reluctantly tells Sara and Alex that years ago, a teenager named Hannah Solomon shot her infant brother, her widowed father and herself in the house.

Cindy also hands Sara a legal-sized envelope with all the details. Later, when Sara opens the envelope, she sees news clippings about the killings and police photos of the dead bodies. How morbid. What kind of real-estate agent gives this gruesome file to a house buyer? Only a weird real-estate agent in a dumb horror movie like “Abandoned.”

Sara has this nonchalant reaction when stating that she still wants to buy the house: “We’ll take it. You know, I don’t mind a little haunting. Besides, it’s all in the past. We’re focused on the future.” Who talks like that? Only stupid house buyers in a terrible horror movie like “Abandoned.”

Alex is a veterinarian who plans to use the barn on the property as his veterinary clinic. However, the barn doesn’t have electricity. Alex expects farmers to be his main clients. However, the property is at least a one-hour drive away from the nearest farm. And so, with no electricity yet for his would-be veterinary clinic, and his potential clients living so far away, Alex has already set up major obstacles to get his veterinarian business started in this home.

Meanwhile, it’s soon revealed that Alex and Sara are moving out of an unnamed city to a rural area because Sara has been battling depression, and they want a calmer environment for her. Because the most logical place to go for more peace and quiet is a house that you think might be haunted. Who makes moronic decisions like this? Only the targets who put themselves in harm’s way in a mindless horror movie like “Abandoned.”

Soon after moving into the house, Sara notices that Liam refuses to breastfeed. And so, expect to see a lot of tedious whining from Sara about how she doesn’t like it that she has to bottle-feed milk to Liam. There are also time-wasting scenes of Alex visiting the nearest farmer to try to get some work for Alex’s fledgling veterinary business.

Sara likes to snap a rubber band that she wears around her wrist. Don’t expect the movie to explain why she has this odd habit. There’s a vague mention that Sara was getting medically treated for her depression. However, she stopped taking her medication because she was breastfeeding Liam. And now, Liam refuses to breastfeed. Sara still doesn’t want to take the medication in case Liam will start breastfeeding again.

But wait: “Abandoned” isn’t quite done using up all the over-used haunted house clichés. There’s also the creepy and secretive person who just shows up in the lives of the house’s new residents. In the case of “Abandoned,” it’s Chris Renner (played by Michael Shannon), a neighbor who wants people to call him Renner. And the way that Renner shows up is very rude and stalker-ish.

When Sara is in an upstairs bedroom, she turns around to find Renner in the room. He’s holding a case of beer as a housewarming gift, as if it’s perfectly normal to walk into a stranger’s home uninvited. During this conversation, where Sara doesn’t seem bothered at all that a stranger came into her house uninvited, Renner says that he knew the Solomon family that was killed in the murder-suicide. He also mentions that Sara looks like Hannah Solomon.

It isn’t long before Sara starts having nightmares, none of which looks very original or horrifying. In one of the nightmares, she’s surrounded by a swarm of flies. When she tells Alex about these nightmares that seem real to her, it just leads to yet another horror movie stereotype: the woman who is not believed and is then labeled as mentally ill.

Alex thinks that Sara’s depression is the reason for everything bad happening in their lives. And irresponsibly, he believes the depression will just go away because he thinks it’s post-partum depression that will disappear when Liam gets older. For someone who has a medical degree, Alex is certainly a dimwitted doctor.

Sara confesses to Alex how she feels about parenthood: “I thought it would be the best thing that would ever happen to me. It’s not.” Sara says of Liam: “I look at him, and I feel so uncomfortable, like he’s an intruder or something.” Alex’s response is the worst “in denial” medical advice ever when he tells Sara: “That’s just the depression. It’s not you. It’ll go away.”

Eventually, secrets are revealed about the house and the Solomon family. These secrets are not surprising at all and are foreshadowed very sloppily in “Abandoned.” In addition to having mediocre-to-bad performances from all of the cast members who mostly play witless characters, “Abandoned” is extremely lethargic and fails to deliver any truly terrifying scenes. Simply put: At any point in watching “Abandoned,” viewers are more likely to fall asleep in their seats rather than be at the edge of their seats.

Vertical Entertainment released “Abandoned” in select U.S. cinemas on June 17, 2022. The movie was released on digital and VOD on June 24, 2022.

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.

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