Sharp Objects: A numbed Amy Adams leads a double life

Review: This adaptation of ‘Gone Girl’ author Gillian Flynn’s novel is pure American Gothic

Amy Adams as journalist Camille Preaker in ‘Sharp Objects’. Photograph: HBO

Amy Adams as journalist Camille Preaker in ‘Sharp Objects’. Photograph: HBO

 

“My demons are not remotely tackled,” says Amy Adams’s troubled journalist, Camille Preaker, numbing herself with vodka, “they’re just mildly concussed”.

That’s true of Sharp Objects (Sky Atlantic, Monday, 9pm) as well, a woozy and disoriented adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s 2006 novel, which lurches and slips through small-town USA where Camille returns to report on a series of child murders. Let’s call it American Gothic.

Like Camille’s vision, ceaselessly interrupted by flashbacks of childhood trauma, the mystery is doubled. In the sweltering town of Wind Gap, one girl has been discovered strangled. Now another has disappeared, presumably taken by the same killer. But Camille herself is presented as another puzzle. The main industry of the town, we are told, is hog slaughter. “So you’ve got your old money and your trash,” Camille tells her gruff editor. Which is she? “Trash,” she says, “from old money”.

The prevalent use of anaesthetics becomes slyly provocative, watching characters douse themselves in hooch or, more archly, in music

In covering the case, Camille returns to her aloof mother Adora (Patricia Clarkson) and a plantation home as daintily preserved as a doll house (a motif that features heavily). Here, her long-dead sister’s room is kept like a shrine while a young step-sister, Amma (the excellent Eliza Scanlen), plays an appeasing angel indoors who turns teenage delinquent on roller-skates outdoors. In a guarded, suspicious and pious town, Amma’s breezy double life might seem subversive, but it gradually resembles a necessary survival instinct.

From the author whose Gone Girl found a hysterical frisson in the story of a woman who could not be trusted and adapted by Marti Noxon, who challenged feminist politics to contentedly trashy effect on UnReal, Sharp Objects is another study in female damage, albeit a stealthier one.

Given a heat-dazed, often maddeningly unhurried pace by Big Little Lies director Jean-Marc Vallet, early episodes can be a chore to watch; a queasy drift of imagery that rations out its significance stingily.

But it traffics in mood and a slow accumulation of dysfunction born from repression: demure girls keep tarantulas as pets; no suspect seems as sinister as the neighbourhood teenagers; and Camille, we learn, is a self-harmer, carving words into her skin with a sewing needle.

The prevalent use of anaesthetics becomes slyly provocative, watching characters douse themselves in hooch or, more archly, in music.

An integral part of the narrative, the soundtrack of Sharp Objects is abrupt and jagged, delivered in the agitated skips of Camille’s iPod or the swoon of her stepfather’s record player. Some will always resist Gothicism’s high pitch of emotion, the screech of terror and sexuality. The show prefers to mute it, or, in Camille’s words, to leave it concussed. But, like the dollhouse built on the fortunes of a slaughterhouse, it knows that, eventually, primness is a flimsy cover.

No matter how you deny them, the desires and the horrors of the flesh always cut through.