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‘Sharp Objects’: A different type of fear

This article contains minor spoilers like you might see in a trailer.

Sharp Objects is a new HBO series by Marti Noxon, starring Amy Adams and Patricia Clarkson. It sits uneasily between horror, true crime, and a profoundly unstable family drama. Based on the novel, we follow a journalist who comes back to the small town of her childhood to report on two brutal murders of little girls.

And when I say that it’s uneasy — that’s the point. This show has you feeling like you’re balancing on a knife’s edge the entire time. The subject matter is heavy, but it doesn’t rely on gore and cheap scare tactics to create it’s disturbing tone — it uses motifs, music, and other literary/film devices to its advantage. The fractured flashbacks that almost seem surreal, the unsettling moments of a woman habitually pulling out her eyelashes, or the cracks and literal scars on the objects and characters on the screen… it all lends itself to a deeply disturbing tone that also happened to suck me right in. Amy Adams’ performance catapults the tone to higher (or lower) levels.

But if you’ve read my literary or film articles, you know the question I always ask once I’m through — what’s it really about?

The show is about the deep cracks which run through each and every person. “Perfection” on a human level — the idea that human beings can be pristine pinnacles of civilization and class — is simply an illusion, and often a thin veneer blocking an ugly interior.

These cracks are scary because each and every one of us is profoundly troubled by some part of our own selves, even if it’s hard to put our finger on what that is. On some level we know that we are capable of truly horrific things, we just don’t know exactly how capable.

I recently re-watched Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight — a modern classic, no doubt. The Joker often speaks to the nature of insanity and anarchy, and one line rang true with the undercurrents of Sharp Objects: “Madness, as you know, is like gravity. All it takes is a little push.”

I think what truly makes Sharp Objects so compelling is that it explores just how thin the dividing line is, between our capacity for honest good and our capacity for deep-seated evil. The barrier that separates us is constantly being cracked and eroded away by poking and prodding sharp objects.

I would recommend the show to anyone who wants to explore the darker side of human nature.

 

Featured image courtesy of HBO.

2 comments on “‘Sharp Objects’: A different type of fear

  1. Ooooo…hard pass on the series. But I love the theme about thin veneers and illusions, that the way civilization looks on the surface isn’t as far from our barbaric past or evil potential (reality) as we sanctimoniously pretend. I happen to like the way the pretense feels most of the time…I don’t know that I *really* want to know every single thing that goes on behind closed doors and down back alleys. I can blissfully enjoy the view of manicured lawns and work behind a comfortable desk and curl up with a good book and pretend that dark things only happen in stories. Up until I come face to face with reality (again) and experience first-hand the frustration of things conveniently swept under the rug, or lies to cover up ugly consequences, or the powerful using and taking advantage of the weak with impunity. Then I remember that the comfortable veneer comes with a hidden price that is breathtaking in magnitude, and overwhelming to undo. Living without the veneer, though, can be exhausting. But maybe that’s only if you’re the sort of person who resists the use of the veneer to make the ugly interior palatable, instead of embracing it and using it to your benefit. …which….may not be mutually exclusive…

    • “Living without the veneer, though, can be exhausting.” That’s seriously how I feel haha. And I think the more you see beyond it, the harder it is to hide back behind it.

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