Review: Sharp Objects
Starring: Amy Adams, Patricia Clarkson, Chris Messina, Eliza Scanlen, and Matt Craven
Content Warning: Discussion of Self Harm
Translating Gillian Flynn’s books to the screen is something that has been done well before (Gone Girl). Capturing her characters in all of their biting cynicism and their rich internal worlds is something that is more difficult in the visual medium of television, and so at other points, it has been executed with less than desirable outcomes (the adaptation of Dark Places performed so badly that it was never released in Australian cinemas).
Following the book of the same name over an eight episode miniseries, Sharp Objects is a faithful adaptation that only changes a few details here and there. Much like in the book, Camille Preaker (Amy Adams) returns to her hometown of Wind Gap to cover the murder of two young local girls. The investigation seems hopeless and without anything to go by, which leads to Detective Richard Willis coming into the small town (Chris Messina). Distrusted as pariahs by the tight-knit rural community where everyone is watching everyone else, Camille and Richard bond over their mutual disdain, but the investigation and her return to her hometown bring up her history of self-harm and lead her back into the home of her overbearing mother, Adora.
The themes of self-harm and self-destructive behaviours are front and centre in Sharp Object’s plot, but the underlying theme behind these is how a lack of social cohesion and an underlying suspicion of outsiders can make a community toxic. The potential toxicity of interfering parents is another prevalent theme. Unlike the mother character featured in The Sinner, Adora’s sniping and undermining are not overtly tinged with religiosity. She is, however, is part of a church community, one that has clearly failed to guide its followers into making Wind Gap a place where the stranger is welcomed.
The show manages to capture the book’s events and present them in its own unique way, its southern gothic style maximising the creepy details of Flynn’s original plot. The bright colours and lavishness of the house Camille grew up in contrast sharply with the poverty evident in Wind Gap’s decaying streets. Sharp Objects’ visual flair is only occasionally marred by the occasionally choppy editing, no doubt intended to give the show a jarring feel, but sometimes detracting from the experience.
In terms of the cast, Adams manages to capture Camille as a likable character for all of her capacity for self-destruction. This layered performance is a worthwhile contribution to television, providing a female protagonist who is not perfect but who clearly strives to be decent. Perhaps the strongest performance however comes from Patricia Clarksen, who portrays Adora with a combination of vacuousness and menace. Australian actress Eliza Scanlen delivers a breakout performance as Camille’s bratty younger sister, Amma.
As is the case with many other contemporary shows, the major problem here is a predilection towards showing all of the violence, never panning away. While this is in keeping with the show’s wider tone, it is something that numbs the audience’s experience and thereby renders the show a little less impactful. Much like the recent season of The Handmaid’s Tale, this is probably one that is best consumed one episode at a time, and is not recommended for binge watching.
If you or someone you know is in crisis, call Lifeline – 13 11 14
Sharp Objects is rated MA 15+ and is streaming now on Foxtel Go.
Jonathan Foye is Insights’ Editor