Originally published: Sommet Dame Magazine
Gillian Flynn does not write nice women. That much is evident to anyone who has read her 2012 novel Gone Girl, or watched the David Fincher film adaptation that followed shortly after. Gone Girl’s principal character is as conniving as she is ruthless, as seductive as she is sociopathic, and she captivated audiences on the page as well as on screen. However, the latest adaptation of Flynn’s work, a HBO limited series based on 2006’s Sharp Objects, makes her story seem like nothing more than a temper tantrum.
Of course, just looking at the team involved in the show should be enough to convince you of its quality, as well as of its tone. Directing is Jean-Marc Vallée, previously of Big Little Liars fame, another story of troubled women embroiled in a murder mystery with more than a few stars to its name. Showrunning is down to Marti Noxon, whose previous credits include Dietland and Buffy The Vampire Slayer, and the cast as a whole is brimming with talent, from Emmy, Tony, and Academy Award nominee Patricia Clarkson to prolific stage and screen actor Chris Messina. If the story’s success hinges on the performance of any one actor though, it’s Amy Adams, whose portrayal of Flynn’s alcohol-soaked investigative reporter acts as the lynchpin around which the rest of the show orbits.
Adams plays Camilla Preaker, a journalist grateful to have escaped the claustrophobia of her small-town home, only to be sent back by her editor when a little girl goes missing. Her return is pitched to her as a mere practicality, people will be more likely to speak to someone they went to school with than a total stranger, but the editor’s ulterior motives are clear. His insistence that she go home is one of many red flags we get that her life before St. Louis might not have been the best, joining the Evian bottle of vodka she keeps in the car and her refusal to wear anything other than black sweatshirts, even in the sweltering heat of Missouri.
The kidnapping piece she intends to write soon turns into that of a double homicide, but the solving of the case is only a vehicle to get to the bottom of the true mystery: her. From the moment we return to her childhood home we are as displaced in time as she is, following as she chases her younger self through forests and empty parking lots, down abandoned highways and up staircases. These scenes are often idyllic, all cheerleading uniforms and scuffed white roller skates with tube socks, but it soon becomes clear that the sweeter an image looks, the less honest it really is. In Wind Gap Missouri femininity can hide a multitude of sins, and be fashioned into a weapon just as easily as a shield.
This is most evident in the mother and half-sister Camille returns to, who skulk around a house that screams old money, taking their shoes off to walk on the real ivory tiling and avoiding conversation over the giant dollhouse in the front room. Adora is a bird-boned matriarch from hell, flitting around in sheer blush-toned dresses and spitting poison laced with honey. Her fragility is a knife-edge she has been honing for years, seen most frighteningly in a sequence where she slices her own hand open while tending her garden, only to claim that it was Camilla who made her bleed. Amma wears tea dresses around the house and allows her mother to brush her hair, only to sneak out in hot pants to do ecstasy, flirt with her teachers and quietly antagonise anyone who dares to contradict her.
Everyone is trying to drown out something. Adora keeps the fans perpetually blasting and the windows perpetually closed, shutting herself in her room for hours while the room of a third daughter is kept pristine as a doll’s next door. Her cartoonishly pliant husband twiddles endlessly with the knobs on his speakers downstairs, unplugging and re-plugging in his headphones depending on how much noise he is allowed to create. Camilla has a similar strategy: Led Zeppelin wails endlessly as she drives in circles, a habit picked up from yet another troubled but beautiful girl shown to us only in flashes. She isn’t the only one we see.
Dead girls are everywhere in Wind Gap, and not all of them have stopped moving. Gangs of girls zoom carelessly around on roller skates, hyper-aware of, but nonchalant about, the fact that they could be the killers next victim. Wild girls with shorn hair and scraped knees choose a hut plastered with Playboy issues as their place to play, next to a creek where decades earlier girls had to play dead to get the line-backers to lose interest. Meanwhile, blonde curls rest on a pretty pink satin cushion, inside a coffin that was buried far before the newest killings began. In Wind Gap, even the girls that grow up don’t make it out alive.
There’s no doubt about it, Sharp Objects is not a nice show, but it is a great one. If you can handle feeling like you’re being stifled for an hour at a time, it’s a pitch perfect exploration of the many forms repression can take, and how they can cause a community to rot from the inside out. It’s also perfectly paced, beautifully shot and almost disconcertingly well-acted, making for a dream-like viewing experience that will no doubt leave a nightmarish taste in your mouth.