Episode 1: “Vanish”
Review by: Christopher Haskell
July 18, 2018
Fully formed and tragically designed, Jean-Marc Vallée’s HBO series “Sharp Objects” kicks off with a mood as distinguishable as the green wallpaper lining Adora’s Southern mansion. Adapting the first novel from author Gillian Flynn (best known for “Gone Girl”), actress Amy Adams submerges into the leading role of Camille Preaker, a damaged reporter in St. Louis, soaking her memories in alcohol. Assigned to investigate a disappearance in her tiny hometown of Wind Gap, Missouri, Camille faces off with a disapproving, perfectionist mother, played by Patricia Clarkson, as well as a shifty-looking, gossip-driven community, and an out-of-town detective named Richard Willis (Chris Messina) navigating the same virulent community.
This new limited series packs the same punch as Cary Joji Fukunaga’s first season of “True Detective,” which was also only eight episodes in length, replacing the sweaty, swampy backlands of Louisiana with a Missouri town (“spitting distance from Tennessee”) lined with lush trees and known for slaughtering pigs. But the shambley, mini-town atmosphere and a slow burning murder mystery play second fiddle to the developing characters, especially Camille. The more layers you peel off of her, the more damaged and scarred you find her to be, both figuratively and literally. Her past is presented as nightmares, stitched into the fabric of the editing with her past blended into her present reality, all made fitting by the drunken daze that she constantly lives in. Adams’ childhood counterpoint, played by rising star Sophia Lillis (best known for her role as Beverly Marsh in 2017’s “It”) plays the damaged young girl facing sinister odds pitch perfectly once again.
That theme of damaged young girls rises to the surface throughout the first episode. A boisterous group of girls roller skating through town reminds Camille of her and her sister when they were younger. But their aloof nature to the disappearances and murders allow for some immediate suspects. Amma (Eliza Scanlen), Camille’s half-sister, rides the line between a normal, unempathetic teenager and a smarter-than-she-appears ringleader. Initial instinct points me at these girls as the prime suspects. But “damaged” runs deep in the first episode, as we learn the Camille self-harms. That element brings up the point that if this small-town has brought Camille to self-harming, it wouldn’t be unheard of that these young women are disappearing and killing themselves. Why their bodies are put on display, however, is another question.
These HBO limited series, especially the ones created from a single director’s vision, work wonders. Instead of only 90 minutes to tell an investible story with complex character arcs, they are given eight hours to scrape through the source material and present a nicely paced foray into the lives of these often flawed characters. As he did with “Big Little Lies,” Vallée is able to apply a nice balance between normal, everyday people and the dark nature that lurks beneath. Gillian Flynn is also on tap to write some of the upcoming episodes. Needless to say, “Sharp Objects” is one of those series where, within the first episode, you say aloud, “this is going to win big at next year’s Emmys.”
July 8, 2018
“Sharp Objects” by Gillian Flynn