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Sharp Objects episode 1: ‘Vanish’ review: Methodical mystery mixed with a heavy air of tension

Sharp Objects moves at a meticulous pace and sets a taut atmosphere.

Based on Gillian Fynn’s novel of the same name, Sharp Objects is a miniseries from HBO starring Amy Adams. The miniseries follows Camille Preaker, a reporter who works for a St. Louis newspaper whose latest assignment takes her back to her hometown of Wind Gap, Missouri. Along with investigating the murders of two girls, Camille also has to deal with her own personal issues.

Sharp Objects moves at a meticulous pace, setting a taut atmosphere for the entire episode. From the opening shot, Wind Gap is a character in the story. The episode (and presumably, the series) mixes flashbacks into its narrative. This is done seamlessly and is most evident during shots of the small town. Wind Gap seems to have been trapped in time and aside from little nods (pristine Bill Clinton/Al Gore campaign posters) — when Camille returns to her hometown, it’s almost impossible to tell if what she is seeing is through modern eyes or childhood memories. This is handled deftly by director Jean-Marc Vallee.

The layout and general attitude of Wind Gap are also out of a bygone era. Camille describes her hometown as having two types of people: “trash and old money.” Buildings seem to confirm this, as there only seems to be run down buildings, those that have all four walls, and large, southern plantation-like mansions. There are socialites and the townsfolk are distrusting of out-of-towners. Homophobia seems to be the norm, gossip is the best way to receive news and everyone is defensive and sardonic. The episode capably gives a lot of information about the town while literally saying almost nothing.

The meticulous pace also allows the viewer to learn more about Camille. It becomes clear very early that Camille has a troubled relationship with Wind Gap. As the episode progresses, we see the she is struggling to deal with many issues. Camille appears to be a functioning alcoholic who is in a constant struggle against demons from her past. She also has the same near sarcastic tone as the rest of the town and at times seems to struggle with allowing others to become too familiar with her.

Adams puts on one of the better performances in her distinguished career. The Camille character is delicately crafted and could be misconstrued as pitiful or boring, but in Adams’ capable hands the self destructive reporter is compelling and interesting. She doesn’t say much during the episode but her actions and expressions tell the viewer everything. As the season progresses it will be as interesting as it is painful to watch Adams’ performance.

Patricia Clarkson is also stellar in her performance as Camille’s mother, Adora. One of the themes that Sharp Objects seems to explore is the impact our family and childhood has on the rest of our lives. Adora is obsessed with what the people of Wind Gap think of her and seems to have a tenuous grasp on reality. She shies away from dealing with anything that makes her uncomfortable and her impact on her daughter is most clearly seen when Camille comes to see her mother for the first time in months. It’s uncomfortable to watch Adora at times.

Clarkson and Adams are the clear standouts and the rest of the cast put in strong performances; however, there is one noticeable exception. Chris Messina plays Richard Willis, a detective from Kansas City who is investigating the murders. Messina is serviceable but unremarkable in the role. Unfortunately for Messina, he almost seems like he is out of his depth next to Adams and Clarkson.

Episode one of Sharp Objects is a strong atmospheric start with a lot of promise. The majority of the cast is consistently strong and the show overflows with charisma due to its punctilious pacing.

Sharp Objects Ep. 1 'Vanish'
Is it good?
Sharp Objects moves at a calculated pace allowing the viewer to get to know the town, its people, and to introduce many mysteries.
Filled with atmosphere, from the music to the townspeople to Wind Gap itself
Amy Adams and Patricia Clarkson are fantastic
Pacing allows us to get to know characters and the town
While his performance is not bad, Chris Messina is not up to the level of the rest of the cast

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