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Sharp Objects recap: “Vanish” and “Dirt”

Written by: Adriana Gomez-Weston, CC2K Staff Writer

Marti Noxon is on fire. With a string of hits such as UNReal, Girlfriend’s Guide to Divorce, and this year’s Dietland, Noxon has had a major stake in creating some exciting female-driven content. Her latest project, Sharp Objects continues her winning streak. A goldmine of talent, Sharp Objects is a faithful adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s (Gone Girl) book of the same name. Big Little Lies director Jean-Marc Vallée returns to collaborate with the talented Amy Adams who’s joined by talents such as Patricia Clarkson, Chris Messina, and Matt Craven, among others. Rising young talents Sydney Sweeney (The Handmaid’s Tale) and Sophia Lillis (It) also have noteworthy roles. 

Sharp Objects is a slow-burning thriller, opting to pique the audience’s interest through a dark atmosphere with flashes of disturbing visuals and eery memories peppered throughout. Like any well-spun mystery, Sharp Objects teases viewers with a little bit at a time, choosing a slow and steady build up to an explosive finale. Similar to shows like Big Little Lies and Westworld, the show takes its time unraveling its plot – leaving viewers to contemplate each episode. It’s up to the audience to pay attention because the devil is in the details. Nothing is displayed without purpose, as everything from snippets of dialogue, flashbacks, music choices, and set design are part of telling a greater story. While the first two episodes can’t be described as action-packed, the stage is certainly set for a wild ride later on. 

In “Vanish,” we’re introduced to troubled journalist Camille Preaker (Amy Adams) as she’s assigned to revisit her hometown to report on the disappearance of a young girl named Natalie Keene (Jessica Treska). After the brutal murder of another girl, Ann Nash, the year prior, Camille’s editor believes there’s a groundbreaking story to be found. Hesitant to return, Camille knows her visit to Wind Gap will mean facing her estranged family and resurrecting her past traumas.

Reminiscent of any small town in middle America, Wind Gap is a picturesque, sleepy place where everyone knows each other. On the surface, it wouldn’t seem like a place that’s a hot bed for dark secrets…and murder. It’s a town where most are nice, but not necessarily kind. In a place where there’s not much to do, gossip fuels Wind Gap’s residents.

Despite their distance, Camille decides to stay with her estranged family. Her mother Adora (Patricia Clarkson) accepts Camille back into her home, but is repulsed by Camille’s mission to write about the disappearance. Triggered by memories of the untimely death of her daughter Marian, Adora forbids any talk about the young girls. More than anyone, she opposes the idea of investigating the murders. Is there a reason for that?

The first episode is slow-paced, but it drops enough information to keep the audience guessing. There’s still a lot to unpack. At this time, anyone could be the killer. Of course the most obvious choice is never the right answer. While Natalie and Anne’s killer remains a major mystery to be solved, an even more haunting mystery looms: How did Marian die? Was it due to illness? Or was something more sinister occurring in the Preaker household?

“Vanish” focuses on setting a mood as opposed to advancing the plot. Throughout the episode, Camille’s memories intertwine with the present as we’re forced to immerse ourselves in the sites and sounds of backwoods Missouri. If you are familiar with living in small towns in the Midwest and the South, Sharp Objects can feel suffocating. I felt the humid heat and sense the insects swarming about. In “Vanish,” shots of flies, a grotesque shack in the woods, and fans add to the tense atmosphere. The episode closes with a shot of Camille in the tub, revealing her scarred body. Below her neck, almost every sliver of skin is carved with disturbing words – one being the episode’s title, “VANISH.”

Dirt” picks up steam with Natalie’s funeral. Found in the center of town in broad daylight, her death frightens Wind Gap further. Following the funeral Camille plunges deeper into the story, uncovering a couple new suspects, one being Natalie’s brother. While Camille is covering the story, big city cop Detective Richard Willis (Chris Messina), works tirelessly to investigate the murders as well. 

As Camille uncovers more information, flashbacks reveal more of her troubled past. Formerly inseparable from her sister, Marian’s death haunts her. The impact causes Camille to medicate with alcohol and self-harm for years. Her relationship with Adora, already strained to begin with, grows colder as the years roll by. Adora is a tribute to small town royalty, an upholder of old school values; she’s eager to keep control of Wind Gap’s hierarchy. Camille’s sudden presence opens a can of worms on her reputation. Having relinquished control of many aspects of her life, Camille is the only thing Adora can’t take a hold of. Festering from years of frustration, Adora expresses her exhaustion with Camille’s behavior.

Indicated in flashbacks, Adora dotes on Marian in her constant illnesses. She thrives on being a caretaker. On the other hand, Camille is independent and strong-minded, much to her mother’s disdain. Over the years, Adora married and had another daughter, Amma (Eliza Scanlen). Adora latches on to Amma, attempting to use her to fill the void Marian left behind. In her mother’s presence Amma’s dressed doll-like and innocent. It’s noted that Adora smothers Amma with affection, yet she is terse and cold towards Camille. However, Amma is not as innocent as she appears. As the murders  turn Wind Gap into a ghost town, Amma and her two friends roam about, undeterred. Camille doesn’t know much about her half-sister…could she have something to do with the murders?

The first two episodes of the season end on a high note, dropping small clues. For readers of the books it’s an accurate adaptation. Although they’ll know how the events unfold, it’s interesting to see events play out on screen. For the uninitiated, it’s proving to be an edge-of-your-seat mystery. The main question is: Will the television adaptation remain true to its source material, or will it add more twists to kill the predictability factor?