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Last year, director Jean-Marc Vallée gave us the sublime Big Little Lies that gave viewers the chance to watch A-List Hollywood actresses use their amazing onscreen abilities in an enticing murder mystery. It quickly became one of the most fun and exciting television events, whilst being adored by audiences and critics to boot. This year Vallée is back, and what he has given us is the perfect blend of atmosphere, dark themes and incredible performances from yet more big name actresses. Sharp Objects is a beautifully grim Southern Gothic that explores the darker side of human nature through the perspective of an incredibly damaged protagonist, Camille Preaker, as she returns back to her hometown to report on the murders of two local girls. Camille is thrown back into her toxic old life as she reunites with her difficult socialite mother, who slights her with each of her passive aggressive actions (perfectly realised by Patricia Clarkson) and acts as a living reminder of Camille’s teenage traumatic experiences after her sister’s premature death. The only positive thing to come of this is Camille’s bond with her much younger step-sister, Amma, who also struggles in the toxic, confining environment her mother brings to her, as well as the superficial nature of their small town.
Camille, as she drives and wanders around her hometown, is confronted with an endless supply of bad memories that are manically edited in incredibly brief flashbacks, giving the series the same nauseous mood that Camille feels whenever she is reminded of the trauma she endured growing up there. The slice-of-life presentation that is used constantly reminds us that this place has constantly hindered Camille as we see her self-destructive actions so frequently. This makes Sharp Objects much more of a slow burn in comparison to the whirlwind of events that Big Little Lies gave us, but this helps to give the show a more haunting presence. This is helped by the spectacular imagery held onscreen by Vallée, who clearly has a gift for combining images, editing and sound to give a truly complete viewing experience. The remarkable use of the song “Tumbling Lights” by The Acid is one of the best uses of music this year in television and film, and I could not think of a more perfect piece of music for the darkly beautiful atmosphere this series has. Although the show at times may be glacially paced, it allows us to have more time to understand and contemplate the characters and themes presented to us as the show practically basks in the lazy summer atmosphere that the series is set in.
The mystery itself is an immensely satisfying narrative, with enough modern day twists to broadly appeal to mass audiences, even if the harsher sequences are too much to bear. What I like best about the show is the full examination of Camille as a protagonist, and the exploration of someone’s wounds being so severe that they never recover. The nuanced take on her mental health is something not all that present in a lot of television shows. Amy Adams is perfectly cast in a showcase of her dramatic acting ability that shows her far removed from the bright, optimistic presence we know she shines in as she makes every emotion Camille undergoes resonant and authentic. The way the show depicts how women can be both victims and perpetrators is a brave statement that provides the show with complex and compelling characters. To summarise, the show represents a group of talented individuals working at the peak of their abilities for a pulpy, yet thematically rich viewing experience that will surely bring more awards to prestige cable channel HBO.