‘Sharp Objects’ is cinematically thrilling, emotionally challenging

Patricia Clarkson and Amy Adams play mother-daughter duo Adora and Camille Preaker, respectively, in HBO’s limited series “Sharp Objects.” The series finale will air on Sunday. (Photo courtesy of HBO)

The season finale of “Sharp Objects” airs on Sunday, marking the end of HBO’s eight-episode limited series. However, writers Gillian Flynn and Marti Noxon have done an excellent job of maintaining an element of mystery as the series reaches its end. Noxon’s penchant for cryptic storytelling, paired with director Jean-Marc Vallée’s wandering gaze and jarring camera movements, makes the series cinematically thrilling.

Much like “Big Little Lies,” “Sharp Objects” is based on Flynn’s novel of the same name. It is the second series that Vallée has directed for HBO, his first being the Emmy Award-winning limited series “Big Little Lies.”

Starring Amy Adams as alcoholic crime reporter Camille Preaker and Patricia Clarkson as her overbearing mother, Adora, “Sharp Objects” explores an intense mother-daughter dynamic in the context of a murder mystery in the rural town of Wind Gap, Mo.

Vallée’s show generally moves more slowly than Flynn’s novel. However, when one considers how Vallée typically plays with time, it would be safe to say that the slower pace only adds to the gritty realism of the series as a whole. The suspense that builds between scenes and the tension between characters is emphasized by the stark silences that accompany  each character’s (more often than not, Camille’s) introspection. The viewer’s sense of time is warped by the intermittent flashbacks to Camille’s past, blurring the past and the present.

The audience is first introduced to the town of Wind Gap through the eyes of Camille, and learns about her troubled childhood through flashbacks in the pilot.

From Preaker’s perspective, it is immediately evident that Wind Gap is a small, southern town, slow in every way except for the speed at which rumors travel. In this sense, the dreariness of the town parallels the suspenseful and glacial pace at which events unfold. However, the descent into madness, the hallucinations of her long-dead sister Marian in various episodes like “Dirt” and “Cherry,”  is followed closely by the sudden increased pace of the story. Furthermore, it would be a mistake for viewers to think just because each episode is moving painstakingly slow that the details presented are any less important.

The added scenes that do not appear in the novel bring more context to character interactions. It is never clear to viewers why Camille would entertain her half-sister Amma’s ridiculousness in Episode 6, “Cherry,” after the death of both her beloved sister, Marian, and her psychiatric hospital roommate, Sydney Sweeney — who was not originally in the novel. Furthermore, the camera’s focus on the smallest of details provides hints to the audience as to who exactly the killer is. Vallée lingers on the smallest of movements like the raising of an eyebrow so that every scene is rich with clues as to who the killer is.

While there is an underlying suggestion that the killer is male, it is unambiguous that this story is about, and dictated by, the women in Wind Gap. Adams delivers a stunning performance as Camille, a character much more demanding than her previous roles. There is a rough edge to Camille that comes not from drugs or alcohol, but from the mere fact that an innocent girl, who could have grown up to be a wholesome adult, became tainted by the demons in her past. Camille’s tortured psyche is visible not only through the scars littered across her body, but also in Adam’s stellar portrayal of a tired and worn-out soul — her large, doe eyes become windows into the ongoing trauma of Camille’s past.

Camille’s relationship with Adora amd Amma, as well as the other women in town, reveal a stressed and tense relationship that is handled delicately in true Southern fashion. While the sheriff and other townspeople insist on mens’ tendencies for violence,  both the novel and show demonstrate that women, too, can be malicious. Eliza Scanlen, who plays Amma, and Clarkson (Adora) juxtapose Adams’ Camille perfectly. Scanlen’s portrayal of Amma as both sweet, yet callous, docile yet domineering, makes her a three-dimensional and interesting character. Meanwhile, Clarkson’s becomes the perfect image of the stern and strict mother through Adora — an anti-hero the audience loves to hate.

Similar to “Big Little Lies,” “Sharp Objects” gives its complicated female characters center stage, allowing their darkness and messiness breathing room. No matter who the killer is revealed to be in the series finale, the true core of “Sharp Objects” is the many secrets and traumas that shape human life itself.