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Sharp Objects Season 1 Review


Sharp Objects is an enthralling take on the complexity and dark side of womanhood.

Directed and edited by Jean-Marc Vallée, Sharp Objects follows the story of Camille Preaker, a journalist located in St. Louis, who is coerced by her boss to return to her hometown to report on a series of brutal murders. Vallée, who prior to Sharp Objects also directed highly acclaimed TV series Big Little Lies, offers an approach that is diligent and evidently more intense than any of his previous work. Based on Gillian Flynn’s debut novel, Sharp Objects is an enthralling take on the complexity and dark side of womanhood. Flynn is well known for her intriguing female protagonists; her often anti-heroes are drenched in flaws and are far from the conventional cardboard cut-out portrayals of women. Much like in Vallée’s previous work, an exhilarating murder mystery lies at the center of Sharp Objects. But whereas the women of Big Little Lies live within a sumptuously rich and ostentatiously luxurious backdrop, the Wind Gap of Sharp Objects is bleak, stern and mournful. While the ocean of Monterey might conjure a sense of freedom, Wind Gap feels insulated, even claustrophobic.

The first episode deftly sets its arcs into motion and guarantees the audience of a slow-burn revelation to come. Camille, wonderfully portrayed by Amy Adams, reluctantly arrives at Wind Gap. As she tries to navigate through her old hometown, her struggle and confrontation with her past becomes painfully clear. While Flynn’s novel heavily relied on Camille’s internal monologue to give us glances at her turbulent and dramatic past, Vallée chooses not to use a voice-over, but instead accomplishes the same storytelling with his signature visual style and impeccable editing. The flashes of hazy dream-like sequences are neatly interwoven into the story and indicate that the murder mystery might not be the only potential mystery that is to be unraveled.

As noted before, the visual language is certainly astounding but it’s the sound design particularly that enhances the physical reality and in turn offers a compelling insight into Camille’s disturbing psyche. Sharp Objects purposefully emphasizes the background noises in Wind Gap — late night summer breezes, the buzzing of insects. It’s a subtle yet effective way to portray Camille’s sensitivity to the stimulus around her. While Camille assumes that she has escaped her grim past, Wind Gap reminds her that those deeply buried memories never truly left town. Those harrowing memories whistle through the town like a late night summer breeze.

“The house is not up for visitors, I’m afraid,” Adora tells Camille in the first episode, as if she’s merely a stranger to be dealt with. There’s something heavy that lies between the both of them, a gap filled with unspoken words and undealt traumas. Camille has, in all probability, felt like an intruder her entire life. She drives around Wind Gap as such, listening to tunes on her iPod as the audience is simultaneously given access to flashes of often context-free and vague dream-like sequences. For a moment we become immersed into Camille’s life and perhaps we almost forget that there’s a killer on the loose.

There’s something quite fascinating about the widespread obsession with women who are brutally abused or killed, especially in our current media climate. It’s easily detectable in many TV series, books and films. Stories of protagonists who attempt to solve the often impossible mysteries of who killed these women have always been popular. Women are turned into beautiful, mutilated corpses that offer nothing but lingering memories and whose bodies are generally used as props to further a man’s story. Sharp Objects, however, brilliantly flips this narrative to something unconventional. There’s room for Natalie Keene and Ann Nash, the victims, to develop throughout the series rather than remain faceless ghosts. We learn about their friendship with Amma, their dark-sided tendencies and behavior. Ann Nash, for example, was a sweet girl to many but she also bit people when things didn’t go quite as she had in mind. Natalie Keene was perceived as an angel but also stuck a pencil through a girl’s eye. As Megan Abbott (author of Dare Me) once wrote: “there’s something dangerous about the boredom of teenage girls.” Sharp Objects upends the conventional narrative of dead girls to teenage girls finally taking control of their own bodies and sexuality. It also dismantles the very notion that girls are inherently nurturing, that there’s no middle ground between good and bad. Sharp Objects marvously subverts typical female tropes and showcases that girls can be complex— there’s finally room for rage and violence. It’s about these girls being foremostly showcast as humans which is something society has scarcely allowed them to be.

For the most part the inmost murder mystery is what draws people into the series but essentially Sharp Objects is a gripping character study. Vallée chose not to use a voice-over and thus extended Camille’s internal conflict to outward characters and multiple points of view. In turn, the repercussions of Camille’s past and present are more evocative. There’s more space allowed for other explorations of characters which only deepens the complex study of these women and how they interact with one another.

At its very core Sharp Objects explores Camille’s relationship with her domineering mother Adora and half-sister Amma and their overt need to be in control. Camille sees herself in her younger sister Amma, who serves as a window into her past, which blinds her to other aspects of her sister. Amma’s love for Camille, in turn, is rooted in the fact she recognizes a future self in her older sister. They are soul mates, in a familial sense. They also have one thing in common: Adora. Unlike Amma, Camille learned how to deal with her issues with her mother by taking it out on herself. To an extent, Adora’s shame for her daughter is what gives Camille control over her.

Amma’s need to be in control is why Camille’s scars are so intriguing to her. Despite Adora’s shame, Amma perceives Camille’s scars as a sign of absolute control of her own body. In a twisted way, she’s drawn to them because Adora is the only person she ultimately feels she has no complete control over. Amma tries to mirror what her mother wants her to be— to be compliant, to exude a certain softness and femininity, to be like Marian. She wants her mother to love her as much as she loved Marian but it’s not easy to be loved more than a dead girl and Amma knows this. While Camille gave up a long time ago, Amma still hasn’t. Adora is slowly killing her by making her sick and Amma lets her because it’s the only way she will come remotely close to be loved as much as Marian. She finds a balance to her suffering by giving it repercussions to others.

Sharp Objects explores three generations of women and how they deal with their internalized rage and pain. Camille hurts herself, Amma hurts others. Adora’s a mix of both. Amma hurt Ann Nash, Natalie Keene and has the entire town captivated by absolute fear: she has everyone wrapped around her little finger. But now, she even has control over her mother. For example, she merely decides to ditch Ann Nash’ bike near the factory because her mother partly owns it.

Amy Adams is a revelation and is without a doubt one of the best working actresses  in Hollywood. However, Eliza Scanlen who plays Amma, also holds her own opposite both Oscar nominee Patricia Clarkson (Adora) and five-time Oscar nominee Amy Adams. She exudes the right amount of innocence and menace to raise enough suspicion but also undercut the silliness. ‘’Don’t tell mama,’’ along with her final mid-credit sequence, are utterly terrifying. The terror and utter rage in her eyes is simply unnerving to watch. The first episode deftly sets its pieces into motion and slowly but surely let those pieces fall into places. Sharp Objects is a masterwork and a fine addition to TV’s current body of female-centric stories.