Sharp Objects premieres Sunday, July 8 at 9/8c on HBO
Ask anyone who grew up in a small town.
Change rarely amounts to a lick of good. Family businesses make local royalty of the generations who run them. Know your place and mind your own business. Except when you don’t, because gossip does so soothe the grinding sameness.
And strangers? Well, they’re best welcomed with a healthy dose of suspicion. Particularly if they’re native sons or daughters who turned their back on their roots, then came back unrecognizable.
Or if you think they might be a killer.
This is the world in which Gone Girl author Gillian Flynn set her 2006 debut novel Sharp Objects, crafting the tiny Missouri town of Wind Gap as ground zero for a thrilling character study that’s part murder mystery, part shattering family drama.
Objects centers on troubled reporter Camille Preaker, who fled Wind Gap after high school but is dispatched back to her hometown to write about the fallout from a pair of gruesome murders. Arriving on the doorstep of her socialite mother Adora Crellin’s just so Victorian mansion, Camille is swept into crushing personal and local secrets.
That she’s fresh out of a psych hospital and fuels herself largely on booze and disdain only complicates matters.
This month, HBO debuts Sharp Objects as the perfect summer-thriller miniseries, cowritten by Flynn and Marti Noxon (Dietland, UnREAL) and directed with knee-buckling detail by Big Little Lies’ Jean-Marc Vallée. The series also marks the return to television for Amy Adams, who last appeared on the small screen a dozen years ago. Since then, the flame-haired beauty became an A-list movie star, racking up five Oscar nominations for a diverse stable of movies from 2005’s Junebug to 2013’s American Hustle.
“It was incredibly beautiful to me,” says Flynn of watching a 10-year production struggle end with Adams in the ravaged skin of a woman Flynn admits is her most personal character, and with Vallée in the director’s chair. “There was a reason that it all took so long. I feel like, in a way, we were waiting for Amy to do it. And to watch her was very unnerving for me. It was very cathartic … a strange wave of awe and release and shock and wonderment to watch her be able to go through this.”
“If I read something and the person is innately unlikable, and the note is, ‘We need her to be likable,’ I’m so not interested,” Adams laughs. “I feel like flawed human beings can still be likable. You don’t have to back off of imperfection to create a human being that you can identify with and cheer for.”
And so, Adams holds nothing back, her eyes by turns wild and haunted and her long hair serving as much as a shield for Camille’s pain as the baggy black clothes the woman wears year-round to conceal the fact that she commemorates years of stinging insults and traumas by carving words into her own flesh.
When two preteen girls go missing weeks apart, their corpses eventually discovered with viciously extracted teeth, suspicion falls hard on one of the girls’ relatives, though neither Camille nor Richard Willis (played by Adams’ Julie & Julia costar Chris Messina) — a big-city detective dispatched to Wind Gap — believe it.
As the pair vie to unravel the mystery, Willis for professional reasons and Camille for increasingly disturbing personal ones, they realize dangerous forces are at work in a town where ladies still stay home and raise their babies and mourning mothers rewrite dead daughters’ stories to keep the peace.
Emmy winner Patricia Clarkson is chilling as Adora, a pastel confection of a woman who reinvented herself from a shamed teenage mother into the very model of Wind Gap perfection. A woman who believes that anything can be managed with a lovely dress, a perfect coiffure, the right shade of lipstick and never, not ever, talking about what haunts you most. Including Camille’s half-sister Marian, who mysteriously withered away before their now 13-year-old sibling Amma was even born.
“Patricia is a force of nature,” says Adams of going toe-to-toe with Clarkson. “She has this wonderful sort of Southern Gothic way about her that is from another era and just lends itself so perfectly to Adora. She was able to bring this haunted quality to the character and still somehow keep the hope alive that she and Camille could have a relationship. … You can’t tell if she’s going to hug her or slap her at any given moment.”
Adora’s enormous teal mansion is a carefully crafted world of ivory floors, hand-painted silk wallpaper, cocktail hours and the attentive watch of her husband Alan (Henry Czerny), himself a product of her design with his dapper attire and firm understanding that what Adora says goes. The Crellins’ gilded universe is just up the road from Adora’s family business, a massive pork processing plant that houses the sorts of horrors you prefer not to think about as you savor a chop.
Adora literally and figuratively doesn’t go there.
Clarkson says Flynn and Vallée encouraged her not to read Flynn’s book, but rather to embrace Adora as the scripts revealed her. “Adora raised her children well, in her opinion,” Clarkson says. “She has money and prestige and a town that worships her. It’s all connected. She lives, truly, in this ivory tower, and has this whole idea of herself, her life, her house. Adora’s house is her dollhouse, and she just plays with everything within that house. … But there’s darkness, of course; raging seas below the surface.”
Newcomer Eliza Scanlen is shockingly good as Amma, a beautiful, brand-new teenager, who wears hairbows and precious dresses at home with her coddling mother, but otherwise rules Wind Gap’s youth with a potent mix of unchallenged entitlement, fearlessness and sensuality — power Camille finds by turns fascinating and fearsome.
“She is the next Jodie Foster,” says Flynn of Scanlen. “She just is this preternaturally gifted girl who also has such control over herself as a human. She’s sturdy as can be as a person, loves what she’s doing, but can go to these incredibly dark places and hold her own against these massively talented grownups.”
“There’s a power play between Adora and Amma and Camille,” says Scanlen. “Amma’s constantly trying to have a sense of control or security in every relationship, and depending on the relationship, that means different things. She acts demure and polite in front of Adora because that is what is expected of her, how she maintains security in that relationship.
“On the other hand, Camille presents an opportunity for Amma to discover more about her past that she’s only just beginning to talk about because it encompasses so much grief and trauma. With the town, that’s a way for her to release herself from all of that manipulation and control. She’s very self-aware.”
“Women turn in on themselves,” Adams adds. “They tend to implode with their dysfunction and be damaging to themselves. I think that’s very true, and I hope that that’s something that people see in Camille and find some catharsis in that. Because many times abuse that women suffer, they turn it inward. Gillian’s so great at [portraying] that, and for [viewers] to be able to sort through the intergenerational violence these women are victims of and the way that it passes down through generations, it’s very honest.”
For good reason, says Flynn.
“We have come to a place — finally — where we’ve learned that not every woman’s journey needs to be the hero’s journey,” she says. “Not every woman’s journey has to be this journey of triumph and goodness and shopping and shoes and winning. The question always was, ‘Are we identifying with some piece of the struggle, be it the desire to be good, or the struggle to be good, or the struggle toward darkness?’ Women have that exact same struggle, too, and to me, a lot of Sharp Objects is bound up in that.”
Sharp Objects premieres Sunday, July 8 at 9/8c on HBO
Stream on: HBO NOW