Directed by Jean-Marc Vallee, Sharp Objects is the story of Camille Preaker, a journalist working for a newspaper in St. Louis. Assigned to cover a story in her hometown of a potential serial killer, she must also face her own demons.
About the Book
Sharp Objects is much like many investigative thrillers I’ve seen over time. A story not really interested in catching the bad guy. It’s almost something that feels more happenstance than something the story was actively leading towards. Sharp Objects is, first and foremost, the story of Camille Preaker and her trauma. It’s through Camille that we uncover this crime in Windgap. Without her, the case would have probably never reached a conclusion. HBO understood this very well and has done a great job adapting another excellent read from Gillian Flynn. I’m surprised to admit I did not see that ending coming and how it threw me off.
Usually, a giveaway culprit is when a story familiarizes a character that doesn’t seem too close to the narrator. Someone we wouldn’t have met through the natural course of events. Someone that has been made familiar so that when the curtain drops, so does our jaw. Gillian Flynn cleverly uses that trope to her advantage. She makes the killer someone so close to the narrator that I never second-guessed it. I’m sure many saw the reveal coming, but I didn’t and that’s why it worked for me.
Additionally, another reason was simply that the story was more focused on issues like self-abuse, gaslighting, family trauma, and parenthood. In hindsight, however, for the very reasons I stated above, it couldn’t have been anyone except Amma and Adora. They are the only two characters with enough depth. I don’t know if I was negligent to details but kudos to Flynn for the clever misdirection that threw me off.
About the series
The showrunners understood the source material well and have created something that embraces the psychosis and violence of humans. A major part of the book is Camille’s narration and her thoughts which is crucial to her backstory. HBO handles this unabashedly, giving us flashback sequences right in the middle of otherwise seemingly calm moments. Instead of sequences with a conventional start and end, flashbacks are as memories that come and go as they please. One moment Camille falls on the ground running, and in the next, we see her raped/consensually having sex with multiple boys in a similar position. All of this reinforces just how messed up Camille is, psychologically. How her memories/traumas haven’t left her and pop up as and when they please.
In terms of differences between the two, the show frequently transfers some actions from one character to another. As an example, in the book, Camille is the one who uncovers the secret about Adora. The show has Camille finding of it from Richard’s help, making Richard a bigger contributor to Camille’s life. Camille’s narration and thoughts are crucial to the story due to which some reaffirming details are lost throughout the show. Like just how close Natalie and Ann were to Adora. How it was their bond that made Amma jealous and needy for attention. Why despite seeming so in control of herself Camille often stumbles and feels weak around Amma and Adora. How she secretly craved attention and love, arising from the lack of it when she was a kid.
Some welcome additions
The two most interesting changes are Camille’s bond with her rehab roommate and Adora’s Calhoun day. Both changes are by no means story-altering events. They reinforce what the book has already established and take it further. Camille witnesses her roommate (who she was close to in the series) commit suicide and becomes determined to move on from self-abuse. Adora’s long tradition in Wind Gap (Calhoun Day) celebrates the “bravery” of a widower. Someone who was raped by Union Soldiers yet didn’t reveal the whereabouts of her husband. Both these events add another interesting layer to already established characters. Camille’s resolve for moving on from cutting herself and Adora’s passion for watching suffering in silence are two very interesting additions.
The show ends a little earlier than the book, ending at the final reveal of Amma rather than after her arrest as in the book. A slight complaint I had with the book was how Amma repeats her method of killing after moving in with Camille. It does feel like a lazy way to reveal Amma. I wouldn’t expect that from a kid who wasn’t caught for her two prior murders. The show, however, has Camille finding the missing teeth in Amma’s dollhouse by herself which makes Amma’s reveal seem more organic.
The flawless cast
All three crucial women in the story have been cast very well. Amy Adams as usual is perfect as Camille, with her strong exterior as well as her moments of sheer panic and fear. Eliza Scanlen as the troubled psychotic teenager Amma is as spoilt, needy, and as broken as I expected her to be. Patricia Clarkson embodies Adora far better than I thought was possible, making me hate her character more so than I did in the book. Visually, the colors tend to greyer tones as expected complimenting how lonely and remote Wind Gap is as a town.
Visually, the color palette tends towards shades of grey, reinforcing the lonesome and desolate atmosphere of Wind Gap. Additionally, Camille’s wardrobe is a huge part of her personality. Most of what she wears tends to be in the greys and blacks. Her clothes cover nearly every inch of her skin and every time we see her skin is at times when she is most vulnerable.
Sharp Objects feels right at home with HBO and Jean-Marc Vallée, who not just understand its source material well but embrace its themes of abuse and trauma. A few missing story beats might leave audiences puzzled but Gillian Flynn’s unsettling characters brought to life by the amazing cast is what truly drives this psychological slow burn.