Sunday, July 8, 2018

REVIEW: 'Sharp Objects' - Camille Returns Home to Investigate the Murders of Two Girls in 'Vanish'

HBO's Sharp Objects - Episode 1.01 "Vanish"

Camille Preaker is sent to her rural hometown of Wind Gap to file a story about two missing girls, one of whom was found dead and presumed murdered. The assignment, which reunites Camille with her overbearing mother, stepfather and half-sister, brings back traumatic childhood memories, including the death of her younger sister Marian. Camille joins Detective Richard Willis and Chief of Police Vickery in following leads around town that might shed light on the fate of the two missing girls.

"Vanish" is such an atmospheric premiere for Sharp Objects. This opening hour proves that the new series is so much more than the latest prestige mystery show to air on HBO. It's fundamentally a show about trauma and depravity that occurs in small town USA. This premiere lets the audience know right away the importance of its visuals. That opening sequence is so stunning. It simply starts with the images of Wind Gap, Missouri. This is the central town where so much of the action takes place. There's only one visual clue that lets the viewer know when all of this is taking place. One wall features campaign posters for Bill Clinton and Al Gore in the 1992 presidential race. All of these images are visual clues as well. There is no audio at all. Once the audio does come into play, it's simply a story of two sisters roller blading around this town and sneaking back into their house without their parents discovering what they've been up to. It's a simple story about teenage rebellion. But it's also clear that darkness lurks over this story. In fact, the past has a way of just creeping through the present. The show tells that to the audience as well with these characters walking from the set in the early 1990s into the modern house of the lead character. Camille Preaker is just asleep in her bed in St. Louis, Missouri. But the doorway of her old bedroom from all those years ago is the gateway to her life in the present and the darkness swirling around her. These young girls are trying to hurt Camille. She wakes up before they succeed in doing so. But the damage and paranoia is still done. Camille is still afraid of the world around her. She is coping through the world by her overuse of alcohol. Her job as a reporter is solid enough if not anything too special. This is the story of her returning home to Wind Gap in order to cover the brutal investigation of two young girls who have disappeared. It's a story that is bound to turn into a serial killer investigation. It's that kind of darkness that threatens to expose the horrifying underbelly and all of the secrets that have been kept in this small, close knit community. Camille was able to escape once. She's not for the better because of it though. She is still haunted by her past even when she's in St. Louis. So, things are even more traumatizing for her now that she is back in her childhood home where this story began for her.

The murder mystery of the show may just be the entry point for an exploration of complicated women and their relationships with one another. The mystery is still important. Camille becomes aware of the status of the investigation with one of the girls already turning up dead and the other being missing. That's the whole reason she has returned to Wind Gap. Her editor understands the personal connection and knows this is a story that if done well can lead to more attention for the paper. He's not chasing acclaim because he doesn't think Camille is worthy of turning in a great piece of journalism. But he understands the appeal an article like this could bring to the company. He's confident sending Camille back home even though she's unsure and reluctant. She feels the importance of getting all of the facts quickly so that she doesn't have to spend time with her family for more than a few days. The chief of police and lead investigator don't want to involve a reporter in their investigation at all. They just see Camille's presence as a new nuisance they will have to deal with. Chief of Police Vikery believes the article will only sensationalize the crimes more and bring unwanted attention to Wind Gap as this wicked place where people are destined to die. Meanwhile, Detective Willis is an outsider to this community who has struggled to make any progress with the case. He is out in the woods helping with the search. He is hopeful that the second girl will still be found alive. But that's what builds to the tragedy of her quickly being found dead. Camille is right there to see the body being discovered. She too is traumatized by the horror on display. It's just the simple visual of a girl sitting on a ledge. But it's in a dark corner of an alleyway that gives off the impression that she really didn't matter even in a community that was fighting so hard to find her and reunite her with her family. Now, Willis has a major case worth investigating. It will lead to an even higher profile on this community. But it also sets the stage for the locals to turn on each other as the speculation begins to swirl over who could have possibly been responsible for this brutality.

Camille has her theories about the case just like the audience will develop over the course of the season. And yet, it's also fascinating to see which figures in the case she is able to talk with right now and who remains elusive. The police don't want to make any official statements about an ongoing investigation just yet. But it's also clear that there is tension between Willis and Vickery. Willis doesn't believe that Vickery is actually doing anything with this investigation. He is mostly just trying to maintain the peaceful identity of this town without stirring up even more trouble. Meanwhile, Willis remains the outsider who is unable to get anyone to talk with him without it turning into sly passive aggressive comments. He just doesn't know how to talk with this community. It's refreshing when Camille uses sarcasm in her statements. It's a change of pace that is welcomed by him even though she's trying to manipulate him to get a good line for her article. She is working her sources even though it's absolutely maddening that she does handwritten notes instead of just recording conversations with her phone. As such, things are bound to get lost in translation. She has deep roots in this community. She has friends and former acquaintances who are definitely willing to talk with her. Most everyone recognizes her and marvels at her homecoming even if it is connected with this brutal case. But there are still plenty of unfamiliar faces to her as well. She doesn't even recognize her own half-sister. That's an incredibly telling moment. She's interacting with Amma all throughout this premiere as she's trying to get into the mindset of the local teenagers. It's not until closer to the end that she realizes this personal connection that may prove they are similar in spirit and not just related by blood. But that still seems like quite a distance for Camille to go. She is very much focused on her own journey even though it leads to her spinning out of control as she's now staying in this environment haunted by the death of her sister while being confronted with new images of dead girls on the streets.

Camille stays in a hotel the first night she is in town. She visits the police station and the search out in the woods before going home to let her mother know that she is back and working on the case. That immediately establishes that there isn't a whole lot of love between them. And yes, the premiere rightfully points out the ideological differences between them. Camille is a reporter because she believes in the importance of getting stories out there so that the world at large understands what is happening in the world. She doesn't see it as her talking about these brutal acts of violence in her home community with no compassion whatsoever because she didn't actually know the young girls. She sees it as a service that she is doing even though she isn't very passionate about that argument either. Meanwhile, Adora sees what her daughter is doing as absolutely despicable. She is digging up all of these horrifying details and sharing them with the public. That will only allow the pain to sting more for the loved ones left behind trying to deal with this tragedy. Adora is of the generation that feels the importance of internalizing everything. What ever one does in life is a reflection of their upbringing. She worries that whatever Camille does will reflect back on her. She doesn't want to be disrespected or demeaned in town. She still chooses to live here. She loves Wind Gap. This is her home. It's the place where her values are validated. She is surrounded by her peers who understand that there is a proper etiquette to the world. People don't go around stirring up trouble and inflicting even more pain on others once the worst has already happened to them. She just wants her daughter to be faithful to her rules and respect that this isn't a story that can be allowed to escape Wind Gap. It should be kept contained to this community. It's their responsibility to solve the crime. Even then, there must be respect for the privacy of one's own home. People shouldn't have to welcome strangers into their lives and detail every personal aspect about their lives. That's just not becoming of anyone but especially for a woman.

Adora doesn't like the idea of Camille coming home without telling her in advance to prepare her old room for her. She doesn't like the suggestion that Camille was sleeping in her car at night where anyone in town could have seen her. Camille doesn't share every detail about her life with her mother. There is such distance between them. Even though she's staying in just the room upstairs, there's a whole life that separates them. There is even further distance with Amma. She appears to be in her room all of the time that Camille is home. She only emerges after the second girl is found dead. That shows that Amma may be nothing more than the perfect daughter that Adora has crafted for herself. Adora has replaced her first two children with one who is completely obedient and will listen to her rules and advice. But instead, Amma proves to be just as rebellious as Camille and Marion were. She's still so inquisitive about the world around her. She has only heard stories about Marion. All she knows about her is the shrine that has been created in her old room. This house serves as nothing but a memory of the past. Amma believes that Marion was perfect. That's the version of events that Adora has told her. Camille can tell her otherwise. She still says that Marion was close to being perfect. But the truth still is very painful to talk about. Camille finds herself getting lost in her moments. This premiere points out that she was very close with her sister and that she died in a very traumatic and sudden way. Camille was much closer with Marion than Adora was. Adora seemed to build a new life for herself afterwards as well with a new husband and daughter. Camille was pushed out. She never felt like she belonged. And yet, the house is still exactly the same as when she left it. It is haunting to her. Every crack in the ceiling is a painful reminder of the conversations she once had with Marion. It's much easier to just escape and get drunk at the local neighborhood bar. It's less embarrassing to just wake up in her car that won't start the next morning. Even when she is at home, it feels like any single moment could be the one that sets her off completely. She is just one step away from plummeting off of the edge. That's a very scary promise for the series to start on. As such, it's going to be very intense to see what happens next in this very dark and grim show.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Vanish" was written by Marti Noxon and directed by Jean-Marc Vallée.
  • Amy Adams is absolutely mesmerizing in this role. This is a complex role worthy of her remarkable talents as an actress. It's such a dark character that is bound to go to even more depressing and traumatizing places over the course of the season. But there's also the confidence that every twist will be worth it because of the talent involved both behind-the-scenes and in front of the camera. Adams is so completely captivating.
  • Of course, the casting department just did an excellent job in filling out this entire family. The casting of the younger Camille is especially notable. It highlights how people change between their teenage years and their adult selves. But the resemblance is still striking as well. Plus, it's absolutely devastating when young Camille just wants to wipe the lip stick off of her sister in the casket because she doesn't want to see Marion like that. It's haunting watching her get carried out of the funeral.
  • Is the show going to be suggesting sexual chemistry between Camille and Willis? It certainly exists between Amy Adams and Chris Messina. The playful banter is already present in their dynamic even though they are distrustful of each other and their awareness of this case. But it still feels like a twist that could happen at some point even though Camille feels too dysfunctional to have a healthy relationship at this point.
  • Camille also interviews the father of the first missing girl who turned up dead. He is cagey with his answers even though he is still willing to talk to Camille about the story. It's clear that he has lost his wife because of this tragedy. He is now taking care of their remaining children. But it's also apparent that he's a stern parent who needs all rules to be obeyed otherwise there will be severe consequences. That immediately sets off some red flags for Camille.
  • Elizabeth Perkins and Henry Czerny are also a part of the ensemble here. Their characters don't have much to do in this premiere though. Perkins shows up as Jackie who is a semi-friend of Adora's. She is happy to see Camille back in town and is actually helping with the search in the woods. Meanwhile, Czerny is Adora's new husband who mostly exists to calm Adora down after Camille continues to embarrass the family in the community.