Television Series Review: Sharp Objects (2018)
In Jean Marc-Vallee’s series Sharp Objects, we follow troubled reporter Camille Preaker (Amy Adams) as she reluctantly returns to her hometown, Wind Gap, to cover the brutal murders of two young girls. Upon her return to the rural Missouri town, Camille must contend with her mother Adora (Patricia Clarkson), and her half-sister Amma (Eliza Scanlen), who lives a double life as proper Southern daughter and rebellious teenager. Based on Gillian Flynn’s 2006 novel by the same name, Sharp Objects presents a compelling mystery with a Southern Gothic edge.
Camille is a unique character – in certain ways, she resembles the hard-boiled detective. Like the lonely heroes from pulp fiction, Camille is an outsider. Although she grew up in Wind Gap, her role as a reporter from St. Louis marks her as an alien presence in the rural community. As Camille investigates, she occasionally exchanges information with the police and consults with her editor. However, when push comes to shove, Camille operates alone. Like the hard-boiled detective, Camille is also emotionally closed-off. She drinks constantly, siphoning vodka into an Evian bottle. She initiates sexual encounters and avoids emotional intimacy. When asked about a budding romantic relationship, Camille responds, “I won’t get close. I don’t – I’ll never get close.” Even as Camille looks toward the future, she cannot imagine herself as anything but entirely alone.
That being said, Sharp Objects concentrates on Camille’s internal reality in a way that hard-boiled fiction does not. From the show’s earliest moments, we are immersed in Camille’s memories. As Camille’s return to her hometown triggers remembrances from her childhood, the lines between past and present, reality and fiction, often blur. The series examines Camille’s personal history as its own mystery to be solved, and it searches for clues where life begins – the family. Like many works of mystery fiction that feature female investigators, Sharp Objects focuses on familial relationships, particularly the relationship between mother and daughter. From the moment the prodigal daughter Camille appears on her doorstep, her mother Adora embodies both mother and martyr. When Camille tells her that she has returned to Wind Gap to report on the murders, Adora reacts as if Camille has taken the assignment specifically to cause her pain. Adora also frames Camille’s emotional distance as another burden that Adora has been forced to bear. In one unsettling scene, Adora tells Camille, “You can’t get close. That’s your father. And it’s why I think I never loved you. You were born to it – that cold nature.” Adora pauses, then strokes her daughter’s cheek as she adds, “I hope that’s some comfort to you.” This affectionate gesture is particularly disturbing, disconnected from the malicious sentiment behind Adora’s words. In this moment, we receive a brief glimpse of the warped cruelty that lurks beneath Adora’s picture-perfect motherhood and another piece in the puzzle that is Camille’s emotional history.
At its core, Sharp Objects is about scars, physical and emotional alike. Camille is a deeply flawed heroine – her decisions, including drinking while driving or sleeping with a source, are often questionable at best – but Adams portrays the character with a raw emotional intensity that begs for empathy. As the series unfolds, it becomes increasingly evident that nothing is as it appears. Wind Gap and its residents may exude Southern charm, but this façade conceals a dangerous darkness that has already proven to be deadly. Sharp Objects is certainly worth the watch, but be warned – it is not for the faint of heart.