sharp objects review

HBO adapts Gillian Flynn‘s Sharp Objects into a haunting, brilliantly constructed Southern Gothic miniseries. Director Jean-Marc Vallée deftly blends past and present, telling a hypnotic, engrossing story about a damaged woman who can’t escape her emotional and physical scars. At the center of it all is Amy Adams, giving one of the best performances of her already stellar career. Mild spoilers follow.

They say you can’t go home again, but that’s not quite right. You can go home again – you just might not like what you find there. That’s certainly the case for reporter Camille Preaker (Amy Adams), who treks back home to Wind Gap, Missouri, to dig up some info on two murdered girls. What she finds there is a town full of familiar, not entirely friendly faces, acidic gossip, and hot, oppressive weather. At the center of it all is her mother, Adora Crellin (Patricia Clarkson), a breezy, frequently cruel Southern belle, alway decked out in billowing, peach-colored dresses, a cool glass of something in one hand. Also there: Camille’s half-sister Amma (Eliza Scanlen), who acts sweet and helpless around Adora, but runs rampant like a brushfire all over town.

“Mama says I have to be careful around you,” Amma tells Camille. “Is that true – are you dangerous?” There’s danger lurking in nearly every frame of Sharp Objects, the new miniseries adaptation of the novel by Gillian Flynn. Creator Marti Noxon and director Jean-Marc Vallée load the series up with so much Southern Gothic dread that it’s nearly as oppressive as the weather of Wind Gap.

Camille’s been sent home by her editor, the kindly and fatherly Frank Curry (Miguel Sandoval). Frank seems to think going back to Wind Gap will be therapeutic for Camille, but he clearly has no idea what he’s pushing her back into. There’s nothing but bad memories back home – memories of Camille’s troubled childhood (where she’s played by It breakout Sophia Lillis), and memories of Camille’s other sister – Marian (Lulu Wilson), who died from a mysterious illness as a child.

Loaded with self-loathing and riddled with self-inflicted scars, Camille is a mess. In the first episode, we get a peek into the contents of her purse – it’s overflowing with airplane booze bottles and candy bars. She drinks to excess; to the point where it’s not clear if she’s ever actually sober. And she’s haunted. Haunted both by her dead sister, and the memory of a roommate (Sydney Sweeney) from a past stint in a psychiatric hospital. She keeps the roommate’s phone with her at all times, blasting out a song from a playlist, letting the music take her back in time to less-than-pleasant moments in time.

If this all sounds depressing to the extreme, it is. And yet…it isn’t. Sharp Objects is somehow fascinatingly entertaining, and often macabrely funny. Noxon, Flynn and the show’s other writers expertly adapt Flynn’s droll, biting prose to the screen, finding a way to make all of this gothic melodrama oddly palatable. Like another Flynn adaptation, Gone Girl, we have no choice but to find humor in the ghoulishness of it all.

Humor aside, Sharp Objects, like Camille herself, is haunted. Much of this is the result of Vallée’s stunning, brilliant direction (and editing). Vallée inter-splices past and present seamlessly – we’ll be in the middle of something happening in the here and now, only to suddenly find ourselves thrust back into a silent, eerie, dreamy past. We’re seeing almost the entire show through Camille’s mindset, and Vallée makes it clear that being inside Camille’s mind can be disorienting, to say the least.

sharp objects

The key to making all of this work is, of course, Amy Adams. Adams, one of the best actresses working right now, just might be giving the performance of her career here. There’s never a single second she’s not wholly inhabiting this character – this sad, tortured, pithy person; a person with a scream of rage seemingly always on the tip of her tongue. Adams moves through Sharp Objects like someone from another planet; an alien unsure how to adapt to this world full of strange, unpredictable humans. It’s a revelation to watch her work.

Equally good is Clarkson, who is a hoot – somehow making the terrible things her character says funny. Some of the best moments of the series involve Adams and Clarkson bouncing off each other – Clarkson’s Adora cutting down Adams’ Camille, as Camille fights back every urge to blow her top in retaliation. Eliza Scanlen is the wild card, playing Adam’s enigmatic half-sister. She’s hot and cold from moment to moment; scene to scene. She can be welcoming to Camille and then a minute later mercilessly mocking her. All three lead actresses are fascinating – they each draw us in to their own individual, peculiar, damaged worlds.

The supporting players all add great color as well. Chris Messina makes an impression as a detective from out of town drawn to Camille – he perfectly encapsulates that out-of-towner vibe, a Yankee in the midst of the south. Matt Craven is perfectly cast as the local police chief, a laid-back, chain-smoking guy accustomed to dealing with the mystery plaguing the town. Other standouts include Elizabeth Perkins, playing a boozy family friend to Camille and Adora, and Henry Czerny as Camille’s stepfather, a lackadaisical man of few words obsessed with his record collection.

There’s a mystery at the here – the murder of the two girls, both brutally tortured, their teeth yanked from their heads. But the mystery is secondary to Sharp Objects. This isn’t a who done it. It’s a character study, and it’s also a study of time and place. By the time the first episode has ended, Vallée has perfectly established Wind Gap. It’s a place where the smiles on the faces of the locals are forced; where money is made through the slaughter of hogs; where men constantly have sweat stains soaking through their shirts. Before Camille heads back there, she tells her editor there are two types of people from Wind Gap – old money, and trash. “Which are you?” the editor asks. “Trash,” she answers. “From old money.”

Sharp Object is episodic entertainment at its finest. A filmmaker could’ve easily turned Flynn’s novel into a film, but by stretching the story out over a series of 8 episodes, we learn to understand Camille and her world. When she’s intoxicated, we feel intoxicated. When she’s on the verge of a breakdown, we right there along with her. It’s a startling, hypnotic experience. And I’m wholly convinced it wouldn’t work as effectively without Adams in the lead, without Vallée’s direction, and without Flynn’s inspiration. This is like a perfect storm of an adaptation – all the key elements collide together in exactly the right way, knocking us flat in the process.

sharp objects cast

***

Sharp Objects premieres on HBO on July 8, 2018.

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