Sharp Objects Review: An Intense, Gripping Mystery Thriller

Here's a spoiler-free look at Sharp Objects, a new psychological thriller starring Amy Adams, coming soon to HBO...

This article comes from Den of Geek UK.

I don’t think this is going to be easy viewing, but it might just be brilliant.

Sharp Objects, adapted by Marti Noxon and Gillian Flynn (from her own novel), takes its time in the first two episodes to establish an assured sense of atmosphere, and to place viewers squarely in the mindset of its challenging main character – but a straightforward description of it might not do it justice.

For instance: “This could be your big break!” says the editor of a small newspaper to his reporter as he sends her back to her home town to cover the disappearance of a teenage girl. This sounds like familiar territory – a set-up to the story of a keen, hungry young journalist who will stop at nothing to uncover the truth. But it’s hard to believe that an amazing opportunity is around the corner for Camille Preaker, the reporter who journeys home and takes us with her.

Ad – content continues below

Camille, played by Amy Adams, carries the heavy weight of a difficult past, and for that reason she is less than keen to return to the Midwest town of Wind Gap. It’s not only because of her personal experience there; even a stranger to the place might struggle to find it any charm to it. It seems to be the kind of place where nothing ever changes for the better. In such an environment past and present can mix, and everything soon becomes murky and disorientating.

Camille is a survivor – but again, this shouldn’t be taken as the standard line from TV dramas. She’s not tough, or capable. She hasn’t healed from past traumas to become wise. Instead, through a process of mingling time-frames, her memories are shown to us in just the same way that they might come to a person in real life. We get flashes of recognition of certain situations, or the past overlays the present at vulnerable moments, and through that approach we can being to understand why she is not an immediately likable or obviously resilient character.

And yet the actions she takes in the present help her to continue to survive the past. In this way, she can stay afloat for one more day at a time, but she is always watchful, always on her guard. There are a handful of moments when she relaxes, and each one is hugely revealing. This only works on screen because of the sheer quality of both the writing, and of Adams’ performance.

So, as a character portrait, intense and shocking and moving, Sharp Objects is incredible. It also excels in suggesting how the past can affect the present. But will we also be getting a decent thriller?

In fact, the writing is easily strong enough to make everything gel together, and the mystery element flows from the crumbs of conversation and information that Camille comes across as she tries to do her job. She’s determined to create a piece of investigative journalism she can be proud of, and so we are embroiled in the case of the disappearing girl easily as part of Camille’s personal story. As suspicions deepen, the plot leads into darker territory, suggesting there will be intriguing, even upsetting, twists and turns ahead. Perhaps that’s the least we could expect from the writer of Gone Girl.

Strangely enough, it’s not Gone Girl that I’m most reminded of. These first episodes of Sharp Objects bring to mind two things that I already love: the novels of Thomas Harris, and the plays of Tennessee Williams. The mystery at the heart of the plot has a focused feeling of psychological discomfort to it that Red Dragon and The Silence Of The Lambs uses to great effect, and yet the soft, slow drinking and discord of dysfunctional families smacks of Cat On A Hot Tin Roof and A Streetcar Named Desire. It’s a really interesting mix, but could it be overplayed? Camille’s family life, for instance, runs the risk of straying in melodrama. Her mother, played by Patricia Clarkson, cuts a figure reminiscent of Blanche DuBois who might easily become a parody.

Ad – content continues below

But apart from that minor concern, Sharp Objects promises to be a gripping series. Directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, it can be equally enjoyed for the quality of the writing and the acting, and for other elements such as the use of an evocative soundtrack, heard mainly through Camille’s phone as she drives through the sad, sinister town of Wind Gap. After I finished watching these first two episodes, I could hear some of the songs playing over and over in my head, now tied to this vision of a character and a place that might prove to be unforgettable because they didn’t take the easy or expected route to my sympathies. I wouldn’t dream of missing what comes next.

Sharp Objects starts on Sunday the 8th of July on HBO.