WHAT I LIKED: Adapting longform novels into 2-hour movies can be a challenging directing exercise, as it generally involves chopping out a lot of unnecessary plot and world-building to get to the heart of the story. Lucy Alibar and Olivia Newman's adaptation of 'Where the Crawdads Sing,' takes a more old-fashioned approach however, as it brings even the small details to life and doesn't attempt to draw out any clear, thematic through-lines until the very end. That may sound problematic, but it's actually a strength because the story is just so undeniably brilliant.
It follows a young recluse called Kyra (Daisy Edgar-Jones) who's lived on her own in the 1960s North Carolina marshes since her family left her as a child, and it's about how vulnerable she is at the bottom of her local town's social food chain, and how she consequently learns to become the predator when her peaceful, solitary life is threatened. It takes a while for that to be realised, as she initially comes off as a victim when the film starts with her seemingly framed for a young man (Harris Dickinson)'s murder. But through long flashbacks we see how she learned to fend for herself after her Dad beat her and her mother as a kid, and later how she stood her ground when the now murdered young man took advantage of her.
There's a somewhat engaging mystery behind all of that, but the fact there's constant talk of natural processes ("people forget about things that live in shells," "every creature does what it must to survive") - and the fact Krya spends her life amongst the (pretty nicely-filmed) wildlife of the marshes - eventually draws a pretty striking thematic conclusion about how a woman can become a victim when her protections are stripped away. That's emphasised further by the fact the only people in the town who look out for her are a black couple, how a private company tries to buy her land, and how different her opportunities are to those of her one genuine love interest Tate (Taylor John Smith).
But that's only emotionally engaging because Kyra herself is brought to life as such an incredibly layered character, and that's partly thanks to the writing and direction, but mainly because of Daisy Edgar-Jones' nuanced performance.
WHAT I DIDN'T LIKE: It could have been more evocatively filmed, and a more seasoned director may have applied their own stamp more heavily, but when the story's as good as it is, you never really feel that missing.
VERDICT: 'Where thee Crawdads Sing,' is a brilliant character story that reveals its plot and themes wonderfully, so, when paired with such a magnetic central performance, this adaptation's lacking directorial flair is arguably a strength.