bidbic

Sharp Objects Season 1, Episode 1 Review: "Vanish"

Share.
You can never go home again.

The rise of prestige television has seeped into every genre, but when it comes to mysteries, that typically means a series will craft an unsettling world and an intriguing web of clues that still come secondary to the show’s character dynamics. That was true of True Detective’s electric first season, where the relationship between Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson's characters was the crux of the show, and for Big Little Lies, where the relationship between the central women fed into the season’s ongoing mystery, but always left room for a little levity.

Sharp Objects, adapted from Gillian Flynn’s debut novel, falls within that jurisdiction in its premiere episode. The new HBO miniseries from Marti Noxon (co-creator of UnREAL) and directed by Jean-Marc Vallee (Big Little Lies) plants the seeds for the mystery about to unfold over these eight episodes, but the first episode, “Vanish,” is far more concerned with the emotional state of Amy Adams’ prickly protagonist, Camille Preaker, than giving easy answers.

The premiere opens on a dream sequence in which a younger Camille (played by Sophie Lillis from 2017’s smash horror remake IT) and her sister, who we later learn died at a young age, poking around their frighteningly large, right-out-of-a-horror-film childhood home before waking up older Camille, now a journalist. Even before we learn of her sister’s fate, Vallee shoots the sequence with a frightening aura, firmly setting the uneasy tone that accompanies the rest of the premiere.

The main plot, however, kicks in when Camille’s editor at a St. Louis newspaper asks her to return to her small hometown of Wind Gap, Missouri to investigate and write about two missing girls, presumed to be murdered. As Camille arrives and starts to poke around, Vallee exercises many of the same techniques that he used to explore small community covered in Big Little Lies’ Monterey, California setting to make Wind Gap feel like a living, breathing place. Of course, the intent here is different. Wind Gap is small and eerily devoid of, well, people. Yet, as Camille re-acclimates herself, she finds that news travels fast among the townspeople, to the point where it feels like just about everyone the episode introduces is already a few steps ahead of her.

Adams makes for a strong center to bring all these pieces together – even when it seems like she’s on the brink of a mental breakdown just from being back home. The first half of the premiere introduces a number of potential suspects in the missing girls' case, from the booze-happy housewife Jackie (Elizabeth Perkins) to the suspiciously normal, seemingly good-natured police detective Richard (Chris Messina). There’s little room for motive in any of these characters yet, which gets the central mystery off to a slow start. But give Sharp Objects some time to flesh out its supporting cast, and suspicions will no doubt come flying.

The second half of the premiere is mostly dedicated to Camille’s relationship to her estranged mother, Adora (Patricia Clarkson), owner of the big, lonely house from Camille’s dream at the top of the episode. Noxon's script isn’t subtle about how overbearing a mother Adora can be, but Clarkson is a veteran actress up to the challenge, crafting a character here that feels both unsettlingly familiar and permanently sad. “In my house, you’re my daughter,” she rails at Camille when she returns home from an all-night bender. Their dynamic reduces this investigative reporter back to a child, putting a cold but relatable spin on how some of us interact with our parents throughout adulthood — constantly attempting to be a grown-up, even when they force you to regress to your most childlike tendencies. Adora is the type of mother who will both cut the crusts off your sandwich and expect you back before curfew even at age 40.

Exit Theatre Mode

In the same house are Camille’s stepfather, Alan (an understated Henry Czerny), and half-sister, Amma (Eliza Scanlen), turning her childhood home into a foreign place still haunted by memories of the past. “Vanish” ends with Camille’s intense flashbacks to her sister’s funeral. This comes only after a brief interaction with Amma ends with her creepily telling Camille, “We’re alike; I knew we would be.” Is Amma somehow psychologically trying to take Camille’s place? Or even that of her sister’s? There’s an intense amount of creepy energy coming from this whole situation, which is mostly born out of Camille’s history, not the recent disappearance of two young girls.

But one of those girls shows up before episode’s end, her corpse hauntingly sitting upright on a window sill in an alley as if waiting for someone to find her. This sort of darkness is much more True Detective than Big Little Lies, but the mesh of creative energies from both series really works in building out Sharp Objects. Wind Gap feels like a real place with its own distinct culture, as quietly troubling as it may be. But it’s also a place where Camille could believably lose her mind. This may be a slow premiere, but the seeds are planted for delightfully darker days to come.

The Verdict

Though off to a slow start, Sharp Objects feels like True Detective’s seedy, seething first season combined with the geographical specificity of Big Little Lies. The creepy atmosphere and central mystery are engaging enough, but it’s the confident, smartly emotional performances from Amy Adams and Patricia Clarkson that will keep you coming back for more.

If you or someone you know struggles with self-harm or substance abuse, please seek help by contacting the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

Great
True Detective meets Big Little Lies in this compelling (but slow-burn) murder mystery.
Buying Guide Powered by IGN Deals