A book being adapted onto the big screen is no new phenomena; however when a book is made into a television series a whole new dimension is open to exploration. The prolonged time period allows for stronger character development and plot progression, there is ample space to explore possible arcs. With this advantage, there is also a greater question of if the creators of the show are able to recreate the essence of a book and translate it effectively. HBO’s ‘Sharp Objects’, an intense, provocative psychological thriller seamlessly makes this transition from paper to our screens. Adapted from acclaimed novelist Gillian Flynn’s debut novel of the same name, Sharp Objects is directed by Jean Marc Valle, a visionary in his unique approach to the source material. It stars Amy Adams as Camille Preaker, the protagonist along with supporting roles by Patricia Clarkson, Chris Messina and Eliza Scanlen.
‘Sharp Objects’ blends several genres, sometimes even subverting its predominant ‘thriller’ tendencies. On the surface, it seems like the quintessential whodunit but the show has several layers to it. Rookie journalist Camille Preaker, the protagonist, returns to her small hometown in Wind Gap, Missouri to investigate the gruesome murders of two young girls. The threat of a serial killer looms large in Wind Gap. Camille is a victim herself, a traumatic childhood owing to the death of her younger sibling and her distant, uncaring yet intensely overbearing mother, leads Camille to a lifetime of self-harm. Her body is engraved with words she’s personally carved to find a way to deal with her demons. Her arrival at Wind Gap amidst an ongoing investigation sends the town into a tizzy. Everyone is intrigued by the return of the prodigal daughter, who’s managed to stay away for so many years. As the local police and a detective work on the case, Camille sets off on her own investigation as she tries to find the perfect story to write.
‘Sharp Objects’ is an exploration of the human psyche; it is an intense look into the long lasting consequences of dysfunctional families. In its 8 episode run, it manages to make some important statements on the nature of small town gossip and its potential to damage individual lives. Camille’s relationship with her mother Adora and her step sister Amma are the most riveting to watch. Adora’s fractured relationship with Camille is highlighted in the way both women treat each other, there’s a constant sense of malice and resentment. The tension is palpable as these women negotiate their new circumstances because of Camille’s return. Patricia Clarkson’s portrayal of Adora is so genuinely horrific that it’s hard to feel any sympathy for her character. The show is in many ways a Southern Gothic, a genre of literature that told tales of small towns in the Southern part of USA that were prone to decay and devastation both physically and in the minds of their people because of their problematic history with the slave trade. Sharp Objects employs many of the devices of this genre in the way it tells the story of Camille and the things she comes to terms with when she returns to her hometown.
The non-linear narrative is never jarring; every episode unravels at its own pace, offering the viewers just enough information to keep them guessing. Jean Marc Valle’s direction is par excellence, especially the way in which he is able to weave the power of memory into his narrative. The cinematography has a certain dream-like quality, the town itself is a character on the show, with its long, winding roads, desolate run-down buildings and citizens that are struggling to grapple with the past and the present. Amy Adams is a revelation as Camille, her portrayal as an emotionally troubled and often unstable woman, is heart wrenching to watch. A strong feminist theme is at the core of Sharp Objects as it deals with the gender politics and power structure of the small town of Wind Gap. The women are constantly underestimated by the men on the show, but these women have secrets of their own, secrets with the potential to cause havoc.
Sharp Objects is a visual delight from start to end. As a television show it manages to appeal to a spectrum of emotions in the viewer. It’s well paced and engaging with characters you are constantly trying to understand, characters who reveal new aspects of themselves in every episode. The acting, direction, cinematography and narrative all align in the most aesthetic manner to create a show that is thoroughly entertaining but more importantly has the ability to question societal conventions and norms and what it could lead to when they are broken.
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