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: ‘Blacklight,’ starring Liam Neeson

February 12, 2022

by Carla Hay

Liam Neeson and Taylor John Smith in “Blacklight” (Photo courtesy of Open Road Films/Briarcliff Entertainment)


Directed by Mark Williams

Culture Representation: Taking place primarily in Washington, D.C., the action film “Blacklight” features a predominantly white cast (with a few African Americans and Latinos) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: An undercover “fixer” for the FBI finds himself enmeshed in a corrupt conspiracy that endangers his life and the lives of others.

Culture Audience: “Blacklight” will appeal mainly to people who are fans of star Liam Neeson and ludicrous action movies.

Emmy Raver-Lampman and Liam Neeson and in “Blacklight” (Photo courtesy of Open Road Films/Briarcliff Entertainment)

Ever since the success of the “Taken” movie series, Liam Neeson has dragged himself down a shameless and shoddy hole of “Taken” ripoff movies. “Blacklight” is one of the worst. There is absolutely nothing original about this movie, which just re-uses and dumbs down plot elements from better action flicks, and then throws in lot of noisy stunts and fight scenes to distract from the ridiculous story. The movie has an awkward mix of gritty violence and ultra-sugary sentimentality. And through it all, Neeson looks like he’s just there for the easy money to play the same type of character over and over in these “Taken” ripoff movies.

“Blacklight” was directed by Mark Williams, who co-wrote the movie’s terrible screenplay with Nick May. Williams’ previous movie was 2020’s “Honest Thief,” which also starred Neeson as yet another grouchy loner with a troubled history and a bad temper. “Honest Thief” was another schlocky, unrealistic action flick, but at least “Honest Thief” tried to have some unexpected plot twists. “Blacklight” doesn’t even try. In fact, about 20 minutes into this 108-minute movie, it’s very easy to predict how everything is going to end.

In “Blacklight,” Neeson plays another “lone wolf” type with a particular set of skills in fighting whomever he fights in the movie. Neeson’s Travis Block character has been working “off the books” as an undercover “fixer” for the FBI. His boss is FBI director Gabriel Robinson (played by Aidan Quinn), who has one of the cheapest-looking and most basic offices that you’ll ever see in a movie for the supposed top leader of the FBI. He might as well be a back-office manager of a toilet-paper company with the type of office that he has in this movie. “Blacklight” is a fairly low-budget film, but the movie’s production design is laughably incompetent.

The story takes place mostly in Washington, D.C., but the movie was actually filmed in Australia. Regardless of where it was filmed, the low-quality cinematography often gives scenes a blue-gray tinge that makes locations look as soulless as a drab slab of steel. And for an action film, “Blacklight” has too many dull moments that aren’t helped by the movie’s subpar editing.

“Blacklight” opens with a political rally led by a progressive liberal politician named Sofia Flores (played by Mel Jarnson), who is obviously supposed to be like this movie’s version of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. In the audience of Sofia’s enthusiastic supporters is Dusty Crane (played by Taylor John Smith), who cheers his approval at everything Sofia says during the rally. Viewers find out later that Dusty is a former FBI agent who went rogue. Tragedy strikes after Sofia leaves the rally: She’s run over by a car, which speeds off.

Meanwhile, Travis is shown coming to the rescue of an undercover FBI agent named Helen Davidson (played by Yael Stone), who is trapped in a house trailer with an angry mob of about 10 to 15 white supremacists taunting her outside. Before Travis arrives, he finds out that Helen had been undercover to infiltrate this white supremacist group. However, Helen’s cover was blown, the mob outside knows she works for the FBI, and now these racists want to get violent revenge on Helen.

Travis does exactly what you think he would do to take on this furious mob that looks like it’s about to set the trailer on fire: He blows something up, and then runs off with Helen through a back door. And if people got killed during this massive explosion, oh well. “Blacklight” is so idiotic, it doesn’t bother explaining why Travis was sent all by himself for this dangerous rescue, when he was clearly outnumbered and had no backup in case things went wrong.

Back at FBI headquarters in Washington, D.C., Travis gives his boss Gabriel a briefing on what happened with this rescue. However, Gabriel has something bigger that’s preoccupying his thoughts: The death of Sofia is big news, and he wants to squash an investigation that could prove that her death was a planned murder. Sofia’s supporters are putting pressure on law enforcement to investigate her death as a homicide. Gabriel tells Travis that as far as he’s concerned, Sofia’s death was a hit-and-run accident, no matter what “politically correct protestors” want to say.

It’s at this point in the movie, Gabriel might as well wear a T-shirt that says, “Corrupt FBI Director Stuck in a Horrible Movie.” It’s also shown in the trailer for “Blacklight” that Gabriel is the movie’s chief villain. Later in the movie, it’s revealed that Travis and Gabriel did combat together during the Vietnam War. They lost touch with each other after the war. But then, 15 years ago, Gabriel contacted Travis out of the blue to offer him this undercover “fixer” job for the FBI. Travis has been a loyal employee ever since.

However, Travis wants to retire. Why? Because he wants to spend more time with his granddaughter Natalie (played by Gabriella Sengos), who’s about 5 or 6 years old and is a typical cute kid who says adorable things that make Travis feel all mushy inside. Natalie’s mother is Travis’ daughter Amanda Block (played by Claire van der Boom), who has been raising Natalie on her own, ever since Natalie’s father abandoned them. Amanda has abandonment issues because her mother (Travis’ ex-wife) also left the family when Amanda was a child.

The reasons for the collapse of Travis’ marriage remain vague in the movie. However, at one point, Travis remorsefully tells Amanda that he wasn’t a good husband and father, but he wants to make up for it by being the best grandfather he can be to Natalie. “Blacklight” has its sappiest moments when Travis tries to be an upstanding and reformed family man. But it all looks so phony when he does terrible and violent things that he knows are cover-ups for the FBI’s dirty deeds. Travis justifies it in his mind by saying he doesn’t believe in deliberately killing “innocent” people.

Meanwhile, at an unnamed newspaper that’s supposed to be as prominent as The Washington Post, ambitious reporter Mira Jones (played by Emmy Raver-Lampman) and her editor Drew Hawthorne (played by Tim Draxl) talk about the sudden death of Sofia. Mira, who calls Sofia a “voice of her generation,” thinks Sofia’s death could have been a political assassination, and Mira wants to investigate it for the newspaper. Sofia’s death has officially been ruled as an accident, and Drew believes this official report. He decides the official cause of death should be the story that the newspaper should have, so he declines Mira’s offer to investigate further.

Mira doesn’t know it yet, but her world will collide with Dusty and Travis. Dusty has bombshell information about the FBI that he wants to give to Mira. He’s in such turmoil about this information, he’s been drinking heavily and popping pills. That’s what he’s seen doing as he’s parked in his car outside of a police station. And he has an unconcealed, loaded gun next to him on the front passenger seat.

Some cops approach Dusty to ask him why he’s parked there. They see the loaded gun and ask Dusty to step out of the car to arrest him, since it’s illegal for to have an unconcealed weapon in a car. Dusty resists arrest by suddenly assaulting the police officers. He’s outnumbered and easily arrested.

In jail, Dusty gets a visit from Travis, who wonders why Dusty could be so reckless and foolish. Travis is under orders from Gabriel to bail Dusty out of jail and bring Dusty into “special” FBI custody. Dusty tells Travis that he’s going to tell a reporter some information, and he’s not going to let anyone stop him. The information has to do with a secret government conspiracy called Operation Unity.

“Blacklight” is such a stupid movie that when Travis takes Dusty into custody in Travis’ car, Travis doesn’t handcuff both hands behind Dusty’s back. Instead, he has only one of Dusty’s hands handcuffed to a hook near a car window. And then, instead of locking Dusty up in a secure area, Travis takes a detour because he has a parent-teacher meeting at Natalie’s school. Travis leaves Dusty in his car unattended. And you know what that means.

Dusty escapes, of course, and that leads to a lengthy chase scene where Dusty steals a truck, and speeds down streets and on pedestrian sidewalks, thereby causing several car crashes and injuries. Travis races after Dusty in Travis’ car, and at one point their vehicles are side by side, with the windows open. Travis shouts at Dusty, “What the hell are you doing?” Dusty yells back, “I’m going to free my conscience!”

What’s the big rush, Dusty? It turns out that Dusty wants to meet with Mira, to give her the bombshell information that he has stored on a computer flash drive. That’s why Travis ends up meeting Mira too. But things don’t go smoothly for all three of them, of course. And not everyone makes it out alive by the end of the movie.

Dusty manages to escape from Travis and goes into hiding. Two FBI goons with the last names Lockhart (played by Andrew Shaw) and Wallace (played by Zac Lemons) are sent to go after Dusty. And the person who sent them is exactly who you expect it would be. The Washington, D.C. police department is also looking for Dusty since he’s now an outlaw who skipped bail. And, of course, Travis has to hunt down Dusty too.

“Blacklight” is such a sloppily made and terrible movie that it throws in a few things to try to make the characters look “deep and complicated,” but then does nothing with these subplots. For example, it’s revealed that Travis has obsessive compulsive disorder, but there’s barely any evidence of this OCD. The only person in Travis’ life to mention his OCD is Amanda, who tells Travis: “Your quirks aren’t quirks anymore. I sometimes wonder if your quirks changed you, or was it your dirty job?”

Mira has a backstory that’s introduced and then left to dangle as a meaningless plot strand. Travis and Mira end up reluctantly helping each other, because she’s been investigating Gabriel for ordering assassinations of political enemies and whistleblowers. (It’s another plot point that’s revealed in the movie’s trailer.) In fact, the “Blacklight” trailer gives away about 90% of the movie’s plot, including Natalie going missing, and Travis confronting Gabriel before their big showdown.

None of the acting is very impressive, although Raver-Lampman and van der Boom seem to be making an attempt to bring emotional nuance to their characters. Any effort to give a good performance is just wasted on a bad movie that has no intentions of being original in moronically staged and poorly written scenes in this inferior revenge flick. “Blacklight” is as suspenseful as wondering if Neeson is going to star in yet another “Taken” ripoff after making this garbage film.

Open Road Films and Briarcliff Entertainment released “Blacklight” in U.S. cinemas on February 11, 2022.

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