Camille Preaker, played hauntingly by the incomparable Amy Adams, takes a swig of her drink, crawls into the bathtub and puts her headphones in, drowning out the world. But she is far from relaxed. And as she raises her arms, we see scars on her arms, self-harm scars. And in a flash, those little white scars make out a terrifying word. Vanish. This is how the premiere of HBO’s Sharp Objects ends. And to say that it leaves you chilled would be an immense understatement.
There isn’t a single moment in this show that will bring you even the slightest bit of comfort. At least, if the premiere is any indication. And that doesn’t come as a surprise considering it’s an adaptation of the novel written by Gillian Flynn, known best for her thrilling, mind-bending mystery, Gone Girl. The HBO show is being brought to life by Marti Noxon, who, among other things, wrote multiple episodes of Buffy, and more recently, To The Bone. Anyone who has seen the Netflix drama starring Lily Collins will know that Noxon portrays addiction in a very honest, raw way. Which makes her the perfect to helm this show, as our protagonist is an alcoholic, using drinking to cope with severe PTSD. Though more details are uncovered through the episode, and undoubtedly through the season, this is made abundantly clear in the first ten minutes. Sharp Objects is haunting. And it doesn’t pretend to be anything different.
The series begins with an eerie and hazy opening credits sequence, and quickly introduces us to our leading lady, Camille Preaker. Camille is a reporter, but not a respected one, most likely due to her obvious drinking problem. Her editor, in hopes of both a great story and of helping her put her past behind her, decides to send Camille back to the town she grew up in, Wind Gap, for a sad and potentially gruesome story. A young girl recently went missing, and only a year ago a girl around the same age was taken and later found dead. Could this be a serial? Well, it’d certainly make a great story if it were.
Throughout the episode, Camille reassures townsfolk, her mother, and herself numerous times that she’s hoping to shed some light on how these terrible events affect a town, but everyone, including her, can’t help but feel reporting this story feels a little…disgraceful. It’s a little too intimate, and a little too pertinent to what’s going on in our society at this very moment.
Drinking heavily her whole way there, Camille makes the drive back to her home town, and immediately it’s clear this town haunts her every thought. She stays her first night in a motel before working up the courage to see her mother at her big, secluded estate, the one she grew up in. And suffice it to say that while the house is nice enough (albeit a bit of a Southern Gothic creep-fest), her mother haunts Camille as much as the town. Adora, played by the incredible Patricia Clarkson, can only be described as politely unhinged. Manners, reputations, and white picket fences are all that matters in life to her, but her mask cracks far too often for any of it to be believable. It’s easy to see why Camille avoids her as often as she can.
But we can’t help but wonder if she’s always been this way, or if it was the death of her daughter, Camille’s sister Marian, that triggered it. Marian died at a very young age, it seems from an illness. And the two sisters were as thick as thieves. We see young Camille, played stunningly by Sophia Lillis (AKA Beverly from It), facing the pitiful and mournful stares at her sister’s funeral. We watch as she walks towards the open casket and begins to rub at her sister’s cold, expressionless face, trying desperately to remove the makeup. She is carried out, kicking and screaming, desperately trying to make her way back to her sister, to see her as she truly was, but to no avail. Her sister is gone, and years later, it’s as if it happened yesterday. Camille can’t escape the visions, the flashbacks, and it begs the question…does she drink to escape them? Or does the drinking simply encourage them?
There’s more to this family than meets the eye, not only with mother and daughter, but with Adora’s other child, Camille’s half sister, Amma. In the house and around her mother, the girl is picture perfect, in pretty and proper dresses, hands folded lightly in front of her, and impeccable diction to boot. But in the outside world, she’s much different. Roller blades, makeup, and a pack of smokes with the classic mean girl vibe. Camille runs into her many times before she sees her as the proper, prim girl she pretends to be. In fact, they were together with some of Amma’s friends in the town square when they hear a shriek and hysterical crying from a nearby alleyway. They rush over, Camille arriving at the same time as the police, facing the same terrifying sight. Placed on a windowsill, like some deranged doll, is Natalie Keene, the missing girl, dirtied, bloodied, dead.
Amy Adam’s performance is breathtaking in its horror. She looks like she might cry and vomit simultaneously. The terror and pain in her morbid expression screams at the audience louder than anything else. It’s honestly difficult to watch, as much of this show is. You want to turn away, look over your shoulder, cover your eyes. Anything but look at the threats that seem to lurk in every corner. But as much as you might like to, you can’t turn away. It’s too disturbingly enthralling.
Along the way Camille meets Detective Richard Willis, played by the fantastic Chris Messina, an outsider from Kansas who was brought in to work the case of Natalie Keene, in case her abduction was tied to the young girl who was murdered a year before. And once her body is found, more and more signs are pointing to a serial killer in the small town of Wind Gap. And what’s even more terrifying? Everyone looks like a suspect. Camille has talked to a few of the townsfolk, but the leads are shaky, at best. It could be anyone.
This show, from the first episode, at least, seems to be the perfect combination of thrilling mystery, eerie Southern Gothic, and chilling ghost story. I’ve never seen Amy Adams or Patricia Clarkson quite like this. Adams is a convincing and pained addict, and despite her quick-wit and almost apathetic aura, she feels everything, she takes it all in. And in that she is easy to both empathize with and root for. Clarkson is creepy in all the right ways, and though the murderer is the story’s antagonist, Adora is Camille’s. She will leave you shivering, that I can guarantee. But nothing will make your breath hitch in your throat like the quick flashes of the ghosts of Camille’s past, or the scars on her arms, the all too present reminder of what she has lived through. This woman is an addict in more ways than one. She’s suffered, and from the looks of it, this is just the beginning.
Stay tuned. Our recap of Episode 2 will be live next week!
Sharp Objects Airs On HBO On Sunday Nights.