‘Sharp Objects’ reinvents tired genre


HBO’s “Sharp Objects” delivers a fresh variation on the Southern gothic crime genre and show-stopping lead performances.

The eight-episode miniseries is based on a novel by Gillian Flynn, author of “Gone Girl.” The show is a gritty examination of small-town politics, secrecy and complicity. Camille Preaker, a young reporter at a St. Louis newspaper, gets assigned to cover the murders of two young girls in her hometown in rural Missouri.

Camille, an alcoholic who is as unlikely to be seen smiling as she is to be without a water bottle filled with vodka, was unwilling to return home, even if she had a juicy scoop and an opportunity to write some award-worthy stories. Her relationship with her family and the people of the town were toxic, violent and dangerous.

The memories still haunt her, and being back in Wind Gap brings a lot of them back to the surface. They are triggered by something simple, as memories often are; the reflection the fan casts on the ceiling in the afternoon sun or a loose screw on a toilet seat, and suddenly, she’s back in a forest, terrified, running away from the boys on the football team, or staring at the body of her psych ward roommate after she cut her own wrists.

Camille cuts herself, etching invectives into every square inch of her flesh. She keeps them hidden from the parents and classmates she grew up with. Her mother knows, though. Adora Crellin, played by Patricia Clarkson, is the cold matriarch of the family and owner of the pig farm that employs and feeds the town.

Adora dominates, as does Clarkson’s performance. Her cruelty toward Camille borders on psychopathy. She resents Camille for her mental health issues because they took away any chance for her to have the picturesque family she had hoped and planned for. Incredibly wealthy and powerful, the investigation into the murders casts a dark cloud over her perfect town, so she uses her influence to lean on the town sheriff to encourage him to slow down the investigation.

Furthermore, she obstructs her daughter’s reporting on the story. Adora thinks Camille is dredging up the painful recent past by going around and asking all these tough questions. Once forthcoming sources suddenly have nothing more to say after Adora pays them a visit.

The flashbacks are cinematically innovative. They actually feel like what you experience when you randomly remember the past. Camille catches herself staring out the window at night and it cuts to an image of her as a high schooler, wearing a cheerleading outfit, sitting cross-legged on the ground with the other cheerleaders.

The sound that she experiences in the present continues uninterrupted in the flashbacks. The chirping of the crickets, the background noise of tires on the road – it all remains, straddling the past and the present.

Perhaps the most interesting character in the series is the town of Wind Gap itself. Nestled in between idyllic, rolling hills, it feels like it is its own sovereign nation with its own customs and traditions, like Calhoun Day.

The episode surrounding Calhoun Day is reminiscent of “Murder on the Orient Express.” Everybody in the town crams onto Adora’s estate for a celebration of Confederate war heroes, even though the state was home to both Union and Confederate sympathizers. Everyone in the town comes to the annual event, so the murderer must be milling around in the crowd, who are all dressed in Confederate garb, enjoying the festivities.

The women in the town “will kill you with their whispers,” Camille tells an out-of-town cop investigating the murder.

The grisly murders send the whole town into a self-destructive rage. Formerly a town where people left their doors unlocked at night, people begin pointing fingers and baselessly accusing each other of being the perpetrator of the crimes. The whispers around town ratchet up and spiral out of control, resulting in real world consequences.

The ending of the series is somehow both simultaneously expected and surprising. The true murderer is revealed in a suspenseful and thrilling final scene. You have a hunch who it was the whole time, but the method and reason for the murders is bone-chillingly terrifying.