From its atmospheric opening – a slow crawl through the town of Wind Gap, Missouri, scored by a haunting melody – there’s an oppressive sense of misery that infests HBO’s Sharp Objects.
Like the investigation undertaken by its lead character Camille Bleeker (Amy Adams), watching the opening hour of this eight-parter unfold is is a challenging but ultimately rewarding experience.
Based on the 2006 debut novel by Gone Girl author Gillian Flynn, Sharp Objects sees crime journalist Bleeker sent back to Wind Gap, a small town utterly devoid of charm, stuck in the past and brimming with Southern inhospitality, to report on a string of child murders.
Haunting memories of a damaging pre-pubescence make her job more difficult, with two mysteries playing out in parallel: the possible serial murder of the young girls, and the root of Camille’s childhood trauma.
Neither the series’ setting nor its central character are all that original – Wind Gap is apparently quiet and quaint, but with something terrible lurking just beneath the surface, while Camille is a troubled, alcoholic journalist determined to dig up the truth, no matter who she alienates.
But an an authentically worn-out looking Adams delivers a central performance that’s powerful in its restraint and realism. She’s surrounded by a top-rate ensemble: of particular note is Patricia Clarkson as a quietly domineering matriarch, obsessed with keeping up appearances.
But it’s Adams that dominates. There’s barely a second that the five-time Oscar nominee) isn’t on screen and she presents us with an unflinching portrayal of Camille’s struggle.
The rawness of Adams’ lead turn is also perfectly placed within Jean-Marc Vallée’s stripped-back take on Flynn’s source material – the Big Little Lies director includes relatively few stylistic flourishes, allowing Marti Noxon’s script and the powerful performances to speak for themselves.
One of the few, effective visual tricks in Sharp Objects is the manner in which the adult Camille physically interacts with her childhood memories, a device that means the switch from one time period to another is often disconcertingly subtle and surprising.
Noxon’s dialogue is mostly pleasingly naturalistic too – only when Camille begins bantering with out-of-town cop Richard Willis (Chris Messina, bringing his trademark brand of stern inscrutability) does it threaten to become implausibly zippy.
This sense of restraint also extends, so far, to the show’s portrayal of self-harm. Camille’s cutting is pivotal to the novel, but is only implied in this first episode – a world away from the unfiltered brutality of a 13 Reasons Why. But then, the novel as a whole makes it clear that self-harm doesn’t have to be, and isn’t always, purely physical and this theme is only amplified by the TV adaptation.
It does help that Adams, Noxon and Vallée have Flynn’s best novel to work with. Gone Girl was throughly absorbing with important themes, but was ultimately a slightly ludicrous potboiler, something that all the tricks in David Fincher’s arsenal couldn’t disguise in the film version.
Sharp Objects on the printed page was not perfect. But it was (no pun intended) bleaker, and better – and its screen translation is on a different level too. An absorbing slow-burn, the first episode impressively lays the groundwork for what has the potential to be a thriller with real style, mood and emotional impact.
Sharp Objects continues next Sunday at 9/8c on HBO and is simulcast on Sky Atlantic from 2am on Mondays, with a repeat showing at 9pm.
We would encourage anyone who identifies with the topics raised in this article to reach out. Organisations who can offer support include Samaritans on 116 123 (www.samaritans.org) or Mind on 0300 123 3393 (www.mind.org.uk). Readers in the US are encouraged to visit mentalhealth.gov or the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.
Source: Read Full Article