SHARP OBJECTS “Vanish” (S1E1): Strong Season Premiere
The first hour of Sharp Objects thrillingly lays the foundations for a series already digging its claws into anything that moves, in one of the strongest season premieres of the television year to date.
With one critically-acclaimed (Gone Girl) and one critically-panned (Dark Places) film adaptation of her work, Gillian Flynn’s Sharp Objects has received the smaller screen treatment this time out, in the form of an eight-part HBO television series from the makers of Big Little Lies. In Flynn’s characteristically dark and twisty fashion, Sharp Objects follows Camille Preaker, a newspaper journalist who returns to her hometown to report on a series of brutal murders sending shockwaves through the place she grew up – and has dreaded returning to. Led by Amy Adams and directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, Sharp Objects looks to be a piercing experience if this opening episode is anything to go by.
The first hour of eight, titled Vanish, thrillingly lays the foundations for a series already digging its claws into anything that moves, introducing us to the mystery of Wind Gap in one of the strongest season premieres of the television year to date.
In the space of one hour, Sharp Objects provides us with one of the most layered, dynamic female characters currently on our screens. Adams‘ Camille Preaker is an intriguing one, totally hypnotic and fascinating at times: there’s something alluring about her but at this early juncture, I’m unsure whether it’s a trap or not. Over the sixty minutes, we scratch away at her character but every time we encounter something enlightening, it sends us down on another path of discovery and mystery.
Brilliantly constructed and rendered by Flynn and Marti Noxon (who is responsible for translating this episode for our screens), Preaker is so compelling and I hope the fascination of her character can be maintained for the remaining seven episodes; if they manage it, we may have one of television’s most impressive female characters to be added to the roster.
Amy Adams is unsurprisingly astonishing
Unsurprisingly, Adams is utterly superb, captivating in every frame. She is a sheer force to be reckoned with and the weight of her performance, already, is astonishing. She carries a glint in her eyes that implies the dark past of her character – but she is clearly driven to escape that; this return to her hometown is bound to evoke painful memories, as are so wonderfully spliced throughout as flashbacks bleed in and out of the present.
It’s remarkably well presented by Adams, with grief, pain and fragility tinging a character determined to seem brave on the outside but turning to her vices to anguish. Sophia Lillis makes her mark as the younger Preaker too, with her talent well-matched to Adams’.
Adams isn’t the only one who impresses. Patricia Clarkson delivers a foreboding performance as Camille’s mother, Adora Crellin. Fantastically disconcerting, it could so easily be hammed-up to the max but she keeps it tightly controlled, with every line delivered in a brilliantly uncomfortable manner that sears and crackles with intensity. Very much like Geraldine James’ character in Beast, disquiet mothers are the ‘in’ thing this year, and both have managed to enhance the suspense of the respective pieces with their initial subterfuge at the hands of their daughter’s suspicious histories.
A visual beauty in the thematic darkness
A fragmented structure could have easily made a mess of Vanish, but the confident, visceral and charged director that is Jean-Marc Vallée ensures clarity and coherence, very often elevating it to brilliance. It’s fuelled by ambiguity and grit but you get the impression that you’re in smart hands – they know what they’re doing here, this is not unfolding on a whim and without a plan in place.
Smart and sophisticated camera trickery and masterful editing allows characters to turn up in timelines they shouldn’t be in, with a handful of chilling moments peppered across the hour; there’s one instance where a character walks across her landing, past a character who really shouldn’t be there. It failed to register immediately but when the penny drops, the moment sends a shiver up your spine.
It’s moments like this that sets Sharp Objects up for success moving forward throughout its limited run. Luscious production design matched with a visual sharpness means that, on all fronts, it engages and excels.
Counteracting the brutality and harshness of the story is the oddly elegant framing and cinematography from Yves Belanger, who uses light to further develop these characters: introducing the young Camille surrounded by bright colours and with sunlight draped across her face as the camera flows around, compared to the dimly-lit, static setup of the older Camille, is not accidental and it is a stunning flourish that helps cement the complexity of the character early on. Vallée balances the beauty with the narrative and thematic darkness that lies beneath to really great effect.
In Summary: Sharp Objects‘ Vanish
Vanish launches this limited series in excellent fashion, with one of the finest series openers of the television year. It sets a sturdy base to build a complex, dark and twisty mystery from, and with Adams, Flynn and Vallée around, I’m almost certain – after just one hour – that we are in for some truly excellent television. Like a needle, Sharp Objects looks set to draw blood, and I’ll be here, reviewing and recapping, every step of the way. Bring on Dirt!
What did you make of Sharp Objects’ first episode?
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