A dark, disturbing portrayal of flesh and blood

“Sharp Objects isn’t a murder mystery as much as an intimate study of characters that are probably way beyond redemption,” writes Biswarup Sarangi.

Somewhere in a bungalow deep down south that’s lit like a lantern in a lonely night,
Perry Como plays on the stereo while the lady of the house fixes dinner for her family.
A family that hides more secrets than the quiet of the darkness outside.
Crickets chirp.
Poison is poured.
Spoons clatter on ancient china.

And a mood piece stretched over eight hours draws to a taut and twisted close.

Dinner is finally over.

After 2017’s superb Big Little Lies, French-Canadian director Jean-Mark Vallee comes back to HBO with another female centric suspense novel adaptation and delivers what is by far, the best new drama series of the year on TV. Sharp Objects isn’t a murder mystery as much as an intimate study of characters that are probably way beyond redemption. It is still somehow, fascinating enough to warrant attention through eight episodes of backwoods peril. Characters that somehow manage to ring so true, they don’t need elaborate words to express themselves on screen. Their (bottled up) presence is enough.

The entire series is told primarily from the (not wholly reliable) perspective of the vodka guzzling, pin pricking Camille Preaker (Amy Adams). Which by itself makes the series worthy of repeat viewing, if only for a chilling close up of how a psychiatric ward patient copes with recovery, and teeters on the verge of relapse.

The series is slow, yes; there are at least two episodes in which almost nothing happens. It is also grim, unforgiving and laden with guilt. But in the end, you come away with the eerie feeling of actually having known the people and been with them; thanks to an amazing screenplay by Marti Noxon, gorgeous sound design (so important in depicting horror), a killer soundtrack (featuring the likes of Led Zeppelin, Patsy Cline, Johnny Cash, The Doors, Stevie Ray Vaughan) and pitch perfect acting from the A-list star cast. Led Zeppelin apparently liked Vallee’s vision of the show enough to give him permission to use not one, but four of their songs. In any way he wanted to.

The Needle and the damage done : As an alcoholic journalist who is sent back to her home-town to churn out an insider’s perspective on a series of teenage-girl murders, Amy Adams puts in nothing short of the performance of a lifetime. She stumbles back to Wind Gap (in rural Missouri) and picks up immediately on a long festering love-hate relationship with her mother, apart from getting embroiled in everything from masochistic self-abuse to random sexual indiscretion.

Everything she does is overshadowed by buried, blurry memories of a tortured childhood and youth that she never knew how she had escaped from. And never thought of coming back to. Until now.

Once home, Camille finds herself on familiar territory in terms of parental resentment, a recalcitrant half-sister and a police chief who doesn’t want to share even a word with anyone from the press. Time moves slowly in Wind Gap but gossip spreads like wildfire. Everyone knows more than they’re willing to talk about, no matter what the stakes might be. In such a place, murders don’t often get resolved as much as they get hushed up and forgotten.

Mama, I’m coming home: Patricia Clarkson as Amy Adams’ passive aggressive mother is the perfect foil to her daughter’s constant hankering and is Wind Gap personified in more ways than one.

Quiet, respectable, poised, secretive and connected. Gritty, gothic and almost cursed with a fatalistic outlook, Sharp Objects stands out for its cinematography where every scene is shot like a painting, allowing the viewers to look into a world that seems too real to not be true. Even though there is a shift in focus from the book, Sharp Objects stays true to the spirit of Flynn’s first novel; its dark, disturbing, languid spirit and portrayal of flesh and blood people resonating with the mood created four years ago by Gary Fukanaga’s outstanding first season of True Detective.

No other comparison comes close.

Sharp Objects; Source – HBO


Biswarup Sarangi is an architect based in Bengaluru.

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