Forget what you’ve seen in the trailers: Sharp Objects, the grim new mini-series from Gone Girl author Gillian Flynn, is not a murder mystery.
Above all else, its an in-depth study of self-harm, its causes and its effects. And, for all its melodrama, it is surprisingly raw and affecting.
There is a mystery at the show’s core, but creator Marti Noxon and director Jean-Marc Vallée are much more interested in the personal struggle of protagonist Camille Preaker (Amy Adams), a journalist who is forced to retread a painful past in her tiny home town when her editor sends her to cover the murder of two young girls.
The series drip-feeds painful moments from her youth into the story until the mystery fades into the background. It makes for a slow burn, but there is so much talent on show here that it’s difficult not to settle into the languorous pace and bathe in its murky waters.
Star Amy Adams makes Camille’s pain front and centre from the start. As she journeys reluctantly to Wind Gap, Missouri from her adopted home of St Louis, she swigs vodka out of an Evian bottle – while driving.
The extent of Camille’s mental health problems is not clear from the beginning, but it’s evident that she has recently been discharged from a mental health clinic – and that she probably shouldn’t have been. She’s haggard, forlorn, and plagued by addiction, among other things. Meanwhile she’s in town to report on the murder of two teenagers who were found without their teeth. They appear to have been wrenched out with pliers by the murderer.
Upon arriving in Wind Gap, she calls upon her mother Adora (Patricia Clarkson), who reluctantly allows her to stay – “The house is not up to par for visitors,” she tells her estranged daughter. Grief hangs in the air in the house: one of the rooms is preserved like a museum to commemorate the death of Camille’s half-sister Marian, who passed away from an ambiguous illness when they were both teenagers. Though it’s not immediately explicit, Marian’s passing and its aftermath seem to have led Camille to self-harm – her mother has little-to-no sympathy.
In the nightmarish daze with which she seems to walk through life, Camille sets about on her investigation, tracking down police officers and family members of the victims. Along the way, she comes across her teenage half-sister Amma (Eliza Scanlen, below), who is living a double-life as Adora’s perfect princess and a party animal who regularly sneaks out after curfew.
Eliza Scanlen as Amma Crellin in Sharp Objects on Sky Atlantic
The three generations of the family are developed superbly, boosted by brilliant performances from Adams, the under-rated Clarkson – who plays Adora as an icy, disturbing southern Belle – and newcomer Scanlen.
Patricia Clarkson as Adora Crellin
Author Flynn, creator Noxon and director Vallée are all auteurs in their own right, and, miraculously, each leaves their distinctive mark upon the series. There’s the pulp-y twist-and-turn of Flynn’s plotting, Noxon’s sensitive approach to self-harm, and the manner in which Vallée blends visions of the past into the present is reminiscent of his brilliant film Wild, which saw Reese Witherspoon dealing with divorce while walking the Appalachian Trail. His work infuses the series with a dreamlike quality, reflecting Camille’s troubled mental state – rarely fully sober, plagued by ghosts of the past.
As the series progresses, we become more and more entrenched in Camille’s personal trauma, but as soon as we think we know her, she does something completely out of left field that throws us. And, as all this unfolds, the whodunnit still festers in the background.
Sharp Objects is available on Sky Atlantic and NOW TV from Monday 9th July. New episodes are released every Monday