From the same talent wellspring that executive-produced HBO’s miniseries hit “Big Little Lies” comes “Sharp Objects.” Directed by Jean-Marc Vallee and starring Amy Adams, the show follows journalist Camille Preaker (Adams) as she returns to her hometown of Wind Gap, Missouri, to investigate the recent disappearance of a young girl.
Developing the facets of Adams’ character swallows the premiere — but it is an all-encompassing and riveting process. Preaker snippily declares early into the episode that she is “trash from old money,” piquing audience curiosity as to how she could have possibly fallen from grace.
As a newly minted urbanite from St. Louis, Preaker is met with a spectrum of responses from Wind Gap residents after her arrival — she is a native, but her simultaneous absence and obvious distaste for the place render her a stranger. When she pokes around for information regarding teenager Natalie Keene’s disappearance and the death of a young girl in the prior year, some, such as the local bar owner, greet Preaker with warm familiarity, while others treat her suspiciously. As Preaker attempts to figure out what happened to the two girls, we attempt to figure out what happened to Preaker — and therein lies the crux of “Sharp Objects.”
Preaker appears perpetually disheveled, but carries herself with a quiet self-assertiveness that faces a chronic reckoning vis-à-vis her drinking problem. Preaker is an alcoholic, who drinks mostly nips (oddly enough), even in her apartment. But her drinking (and music selection) are an insufficient balm for the parade of agitated thoughts she carries, which we learn are ever-present, torturous, and occasionally, sexually arousing for Preaker.
Adams’ character is haunted by flashbacks that viewers scramble to piece together in an effort to understand their protagonist’s woes. An abandoned cottage in the woods. Two children rollerblading down an empty street. A child in a casket. What we do manage to gather over the course of Preaker’s homecoming is that Preaker’s younger sister Marianne died in adolescence and that the two had been close in age and in spirit.
The flashbacks — in conjunction with various visuals, such as a highway sign en route to her hometown reading “Last Exit to Change Your Mind” — reveal an unreliable narrator. Preaker’s memories sometimes manifest themselves as dreams. Other times, they appear as episodes woven into the present, creating a disturbing scenario where adult Preaker attempts to verbally or physically engage the characters of her flashbacks. The aloofness of Preaker’s mother, who appears to dance around Preaker’s cold childhood home at random intervals, only adds to this emerging sense of psychosis.
A surprisingly large amount of the first episode consists of audiences witnessing the beats between events as opposed to the events themselves, which seem largely trapped in flashbacks. The act of Camille driving in her car spans entire scenes. The image of Camille sitting in a bathtub occupies two separate scenes. We, like Camille, become almost agitated waiting for the scene to erupt or display some sort of transitive action; often times, it does not. We are left with either nothing or a fragmented flashback that engenders more questions than answers.
“Sharp Objects” constructs a compelling mystery within a mystery, leaving audiences to wonder if the two conclusions will ultimately be the same. The fusion of the fantastic with reality is stimulating, creating the type of uncertainty that makes you hungry to watch more rather than quit in frustration. Adams shines as Preaker, mastering a role that (so far) is largely a product of internal deliberations and ruminations rather than concrete action.
The first episode of “Sharp Objects,” much like “Big Little Lies,” lays the groundwork of a puzzle by fitting random pieces into their correct places and presumably not connecting them until the very end. “Sharp Objects” is incisive and chilling — an excellent addition to executive producer Jean-Marc Vallee’s canon of work.