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On Sunday, HBO is hoping to launch its next big hit. But the anticipated adaptation of Gillian Flynn's 2006 novel Sharp Objects is not your typical frothy summer fare. Starring Amy Adams and helmed by Marti Noxon, the eight-episode murder mystery is a gothic exploration of female violence and the cycle of abuse in a small Southern town.
Shortly after being released from a psychiatric hospital, reporter Camille Preaker (Adams) is assigned to return to her small Missouri hometown, Wind Gap, to cover the murders and mutilations of two young girls. Forced to stay with her estranged, performatively fragile mother Adora (played by the incomparable Patricia Clarkson), her impossibly passive step-father Alan (Revenge's Henry Czerny) and manipulative younger half-sister Amma Crellin (newcomer Eliza Scanlen), Camille finds herself unable to hide from her personal demons at the bottom of a bottle any longer.
"I've played some dark roles, but I think Camille is somebody who has a harder time... concussing her demons," Adams recently told TV Guide at the ATX Television Festival. "She's just somebody who's resilient and she's in pain, and we're exploring the mystery of her history."
Although she did her best to leave Wind Gap in the past, Camille continues to be haunted by the events that occurred there during her childhood, including the untimely death of her sister Marian, who passed from an unspecified illness as a child. The ghosts of Camille's past are interwoven quite literally into her present through clever editing and surreal flashbacks, demonstrating how much the trauma she experienced growing up continues to affect her today.
This exploration of trauma and its complex effects is one of the main things that appealed to Noxon, whose credits also include Buffy the Vampire Slayer, UnREAL, Dietland and To the Bone. "It was a very powerful experience," Noxon said of telling Camille's story. "Part of the reason I was drawn to the book is because I have my own history of addiction and self-harm, and I know what it's like to battle that and I know what it's like to feel it's all your fault and try to hide it. And so Camille was a very relatable character because she takes everything and puts it inside. And then to be able to sort of step out of her journey of trying to find out where that came from and confront it — you rarely get the opportunity to do it at this level [and] with the kind of talent that we have."
With Camille, Adora and Amma at the center, Sharp Objects is a story about pain and violence in which women are both the victims and the inflictors. Sometimes these actions are projected outward, with the women lashing out at everyone around them, often in a misguided attempt to be loved. But with Camille, it's most often directed at herself. Although she does her best to repress these urges, Camille's deep-seated pain manifests itself in the words she carves into her body, a cry for help that Camille keeps carefully hidden from the outside world underneath her long sleeves and black jeans.
"I think you here have three generations of women — even though Amma and Camille are from the same mother, they're generationally different — and how we handle pain is so specific," Adams said of Sharp Object's unique family dynamic. "And so, with Adora, you see the generation that's meant to hide everything and present a perfect façade, and with Camille, she's confused. We don't know. Are we supposed to stay at home? Are we supposed to be career [women]? It's confusion and we're getting mixed messages. And then with Amma ... it's very much the girls who are very outwardly violent and very outwardly rageful, which is a different generation as well."
"I just don't think we've seen it on TV," added Flynn. "I think we've seen a lot about men and their issues. We've explored that very well and wonderfully in things like The Sopranos and Mad Men and Breaking Bad. And we've seen that on TV a lot, but we haven't seen a lot about women and their violence and their anger and their generational issues. So, I think people are going to find it very interesting, refreshing, exciting, frightening, dark. It's going to feel very new and I'm really proud of that."
It's exactly because of this darkness that the team behind Sharp Objects laughs off the early comparisons to HBO's other female-led murder mystery, Big Little Lies. "No offense to Big Little Lies, but it makes that kind of look like weak sauce," joked Noxon. "They're sisters, but they're not twins."
"If you're expecting Big Little Lies, you're going to be disappointed because it's so different," said Sharp Objects director Jean-Marc Vallée, who won an Emmy for his work on the Nicole Kidman-Reese Witherspoon series. "[Sharp Objects is] something else. It's another beast. And it's a dark one, but there's some beauty in the darkness."
To explore the darkness of Wind Gap for yourself, you can catch Sharp Objects on HBO starting Sunday at 9/8c.