Sharp Objects has all the ingredients for a classic ‘whodunnit’ — a grisly, suspicious death, a small town chock-full of sinful secrets, and a big-city reporter sent in to cover the crime. But, as hinted at in the show’s first episode (“This isn’t going to be exploitative; more like a think piece on how something like this can affect a town,” says the newspaper’s editor), it plays out rather differently on screen. This is no mere murder mystery — it is, in fact, a bleak, slow-paced character study hidden within one.
Based on the novel of the same name by Gone Girl author Gillian Flynn, it centres on Amy Adams’ Camille Preaker, a journalist sent to cover a story in her small hometown of Wind Gap, Missouri. Her homecoming, however, triggers memories of a traumatic past, ripping open emotional wounds she’s long tried to hide.
Adams — all Midwestern drawl and sorrowful eyes — is predictably superb, effortlessly expressing everything the dialogue leaves out, be it relief, charm or utter devastation. It’s a powerful performance, and one from which we aren’t permitted to escape — the camera rarely strays from her, her emotions becoming ours. And in that process we uncover more truths about Camille than she does about the case.
In fact, it soon becomes clear that planting clues to the killer’s identity isn’t the priority. As suspects prove their innocence, tips prove less than fruitful and the crime begins to occupy less screen time. Camille is actually the puzzle being pieced together. It’s a bold choice — viewers lured in by the expectation of a more conventional crime drama, one featuring something more like the breadcrumb trail of clues laid down in Gone Girl, perhaps, will find this adaptation is a very different proposition.
Viewers lured in by Gone Girl will find this adaptation is a very different proposition.
Characters are introduced who seem as though they may be important — an out-of-town detective, a family friend, Camille’s rebellious half-sister Amma (Scanlen), her vitriolic mother Adora (Clarkson) — but their appearances are fleeting. The focus always returns to Camille, her mental wellbeing, and the secrets she has buried in her past.
And on that front, it delivers. Sharp Objects dares not to provide the easy, endorphin-rush thrills of so many murder investigation shows. As thorny as it is unconventional, it’s a hard-hitting, distressingly realistic exploration of both mental health and the heartbreaking reality of being forced to confront scars that haven’t — and may never — heal.