I hate going against the grain, I really do, especially when so many people love it, but I have to say that I’m not particularly enjoying HBO’s psychological thriller ‘Sharp Objects’, which I catch weekly on Sky Atlantic. And before you shout irately, casting about for a sharp object to hurl at your screen, let me just qualify that by saying ‘but I absolutely loved Gillian Flynn’s debut novel (of the same name, of course) and have loved all her subsequent, equally disturbing books too’. It is just the TV adaptation I am struggling with.
For anyone who doesn’t know, the story centres around Camille Preaker (hauntingly played by Amy Adams), a troubled semi-alcoholic reporter with the St Louis Chronicle. Having feebly tried to leave her past behind, she is reluctantly assigned back to her home town of Wind Gap, a sleepy Missouri backwater, to cover the mysterious disappearance of two young local girls. Once more holed up in her family’s lavish mansion while she completes her reports, Camille is forced to reunite with her estranged family. And suddenly you understand the reason why there is definitely more than just water in her trusty Evian bottle…
First there’s her emotionally manipulative, super creepy mother Adora Crellin (played by Patricia Clarkson), a woman whose primary concern is to ‘keep things nice’ and maintain her public image as town matriarch. Then we have Camille’s precocious, duplicitous half-sister Amma (Eliza Scanlon): Southern Belle in pinafore dress by day and roller-skating, pill-popping hell-raiser in hot pants by night. We complete the triangle with the stunted, passive step-father (coolly played by Henry Czerny) who would rather lose himself in his classical music under a pair of noise-cancelling headphones than deal with the real life noise that is the Crellin-Preaker family. Throw in a dead sister and a stunning self-harming habit and who wouldn’t be as messed up as Camille Preaker clearly is?
So what’s not to like? Gillian Flynn excels at complex female characters and unexpected plot twists. And the cast are magnificent with their chilling performances and undertones of menace. It’s a moody, atmospheric piece of TV, largely fostered by withering looks and pregnant pauses punctuated by muttered responses. And that’s when it gets difficult for me, literally. I actually have to have the subtitles on to catch a lot of what is being said. Then there are plenty of scenes shot in dim, shadowy interiors, all setting the mood and adding that marked sense of sinister realism but not exactly easy on the eye. Finally, add to that the relentless jumping back and forth of the timeline as we are filled in on Camille’s traumatic background via a series of dreamy flashbacks and you end up straining to see and hear and feeling somewhat exhausted and confused at the end of it.
But then again, perhaps that is exactly how we are meant to feel. After all, how better to get inside the head of our lead character? Maybe that’s what Marti Noxon, who has adapted this brilliant tale, was gunning for, and in which case achieves. I’m not convinced but you decide for yourself. One thing is for sure, I am hooked enough to keep tuning in to this suspenseful and deeply unsettling world. I just may have to have the volume and the contrast cranked up a little further than normal to fully appreciate it.