Wind Gap, Missouri. Camille Preaker (Amy Adams) is an alcoholic and self-destructive journalist, who tries to escape her own memories. She comes back to her hometown to report on the murders of two young girls. But what she will eventually find out is a sinister truth about her own past and family.
Sharp Objects is a miniseries based on the debut novel of the same name by Gillian Flynn, published in 2006, and one of the author’s three books, including Gone Girl. Produced by HBO, the show is a female-driven thriller that deals with deep and dark humanity. Personal trauma, addictions, and a ferocious look beyond a Midwest town façade.
A women-led story
The director Jean-Marc Vallée is not a stranger to this kind of narration. His previous work, Big Little Lies, explores women’s complexity and female friendships, against the background of a murder. Sharp Objects’ is a similar operation. Humanity is always shown in its whole, which “means not being afraid to expose flaws, and not being perfect.”
The female dimension plays an important role and depicts disruptive, yet intense characters, that move their steps in a community still imbued with sexism and misogyny. In this case, it foregrounds three generations of women: Camille herself, her mother Adora (Patricia Clarkson), and her younger half-sister Amma (Eliza Scanlen). They all share scars and trauma, some more evident than others. The resulting dark atmosphere highlights a visual contrast with the floral wallpapers and the bright lights of Camille’s home.
The intense performance of the actresses overshadows Wind Gap men, that simply become side characters — like Camille’s stepfather, Alan Crellin (Henry Czerny) or even the detective Richard Willis (Chris Messina).
Crime story as a pretext
Sharp Objects doesn’t only focus on the crime story. Indeed, the murder investigation works more as an excuse to deepen Camille’s demons. Details of the victims or new evidences recall her sorrowful past.
The show is an exploration of her pain, due to her younger sister’s death and the trauma caused by rape. Since Camille has never come to terms with all of that, the plot still travels on two timelines: the present-day and the past are intertwined. In the very first scenes, for instance, the viewer follows a younger Camille, who hurts her older version with a pointed clip.
Unlike other TV shows such as The Wilds or Once Upon a Time, where flashbacks are often used and easily recognizable, here the visual time overlap is not always so clear. Sharp Objects expands times and holds the audience in Camille’s memories, by making it difficult to find a grip on reality.
A suffocating atmosphere
Sharp Objects is full of ventilators and fans, but it’s not just because of the weather. There is a constant tension, that causes the audience to feel an unexplained unease. The camera frames the suffocating atmosphere of Wind Gap, whose appearance looks respectable. Yet, it allows violence in different forms. Illness, oppression, and alienation build up a fil rouge that guides the viewer through the town streets and the story.
In this scenario, Camille is a dark character, who does not follow Wind Gap rules and traditions. However, despite the addictions, Amy Adams’s craftmanship in acting unveils equivalent deep humanity: “There is a lot about her that is complicated and dark – she said in an Hbo featurette – and yet, in playing Camille, I’ve never felt dirty. I just felt so human”.