How HBO’s Sharp Objects Pulled Out My Inner Fears
My girlfriend thinks I’m crazy.
I’m sure I’m not alone in that sentiment here.
Anyway, ever since we started watching HBO’s Sharp Objects together, she is probably not too far off in her thinking of me. I have been waiting for a show that explores life’s deepest darkest fears, a show that pushes the envelope and presents fear in a way that only a handful of talented directors, editors and filmmakers can do, and one that legitimately scares the absolute shit out of me.
Well, Sharp Objects has accomplished just that.
When I think about my own fears throughout my life, a specific few come to mind.
Growing up, I was completely terrified that a man in a white van would pull up to my driveway, hop out and take me away. I had nightmares of these white vans rolling down our neighborhood with a bearded and scraggly figure getting out of the van and proceeding to chase me as I tried to run out of the quicksand that was my driveway.
Why does that always happen in dreams by the way? About 10 years later, I saw The Silence of the Lambs and the white van scene is still hard for me to stomach.
When I started watching Sharp Objects, several new fears arose. It was like they came from a place deep within my soul that I did not even know existed. When I saw these fears materialize in a visual form, I knew how real they were.
For starters, the fear of abuse ran much deeper than I ever anticipated. I lived an incredible life growing up. I was never around abuse and I don’t have any friends that I know were physically or mentally abused as children. I am beyond lucky for that. Many children are not so lucky and it truly makes my gut wrench.
As I started watching Sharp Objects, I couldn’t believe the amount of abuse Camille has endured throughout her life. Much of this abuse stems directly from her mother (we now know a lot more), the men in town, her sister, herself and many more people and demons (they seem pretty closely related in Wind Gap, don’t they?) we don’t know about quite yet. With some insanely creepy and effective editing techniques, the echo chambers of Camille’s haunted memories will forever be etched into my subconscious.
As the show carries on, we start to see exactly how people in Wind Gap deal with their demons. Just like the demons that exist in their subconscious, their methods of coping can be hard to watch. Sadly, we’ve all dealt with our demons in ways we aren’t proud, and even though the residents of Wind Gap take it to an extreme level, I can still relate on some sort of humanistic level.
I think that’s what makes it so scary.
Second, I didn’t realize I was so afraid of a potential female killer until starting Sharp Objects. Or a few of them. Or a lot of them. I don’t know. Either way, it is terrifying. We’ve seen the male psychopaths in films, on television and in reality before, but there is something even more unnerving about seeing female rage and violence on camera depicted in such incredible acting performances. Maybe that’s part of the point — we are seeing something new right before our eyes and just like Chief Vickery, we are in denial about the fact that the killer might be a woman(s).
As I mentioned before, we’ve seen serial killers and fictional characters like Jack Torrance, Norman Bates, Jeffrey Dahmer, William H. Gacy, Ed Gein, Buffalo Bill, Ted Bundy — the list goes on and on. Even the fictional characters are based off some psychopathic male murderer who roamed this earth at some point in time. Which, don’t get me wrong, is still absolutely terrifying, but pop culture has taken a bit of an obsession to the male serial killer and its lost some of its horror genre luster.
With the exception of Charlize Theron in Monster (which I have still yet to see),
I can’t remember more haunting characters than Adora, Amma and the mysterious “Woman in the White Dress.” Sure, we finally see why Amma may be lashing out the way that she does, but most of her behavior is downright creepy. The evil smirks, the flirtatious nature with her own sister, the rampant drug use, the bullying, teasing, and so on and so forth.
However, she is nothing compared to the walking nightmare that is Adora Crellin.
In Episode 2, there is a scene in which Camille is at the playground talking to a couple of kids. One of them tells her that a boy named James told him that a “Woman in White” emerged from the woods and took Natalie.
It is then that one of the scariest scenes on television takes place. As the show so brilliantly pulls off, we see a “Woman in White” emerge from the woods like Freddy Krueger emerging from the depths of hell. She is slow moving and inviting, yet it is so unnerving to see such a mythical, yet real ‘person’ surface directly from the woods of this Wind Gap playground. We bounce back between Camille’s nightmare visions and her chat with the young children as the audio changes back and forth between dream state and reality.
Once again, it is pure nightmare fuel.
Many films and shows have explored the deep, dark depths of family dynamics, but Sharp Objects does so in a way that is completely claustrophobic, spinetingling, and terrifyingly realistic. Each time we enter the Crellin’s southern mansion, I feel as if all of my positive energy has been sucked right out of me and my anxiety goes through the roof.
These emotions point to the brilliance of Amy Adams, Jean-Marc Vallée, and his filmmaking and audio teams in their use of music and sound effects used during flashbacks, dreams, nightmares and reality juxtaposed against their visual representation of the Crellin’s gothic mansion. With every walk up those creepy ass steps, I can’t help but think of Adora dressed in some lavish night gown, prowling her own home as if its some sacred (evil) universe, waiting for Camille one last time.
As Sharp Objects progresses, we also see the evil nature of many of the men in Wind Gap on full display. As Camille bounces back and forth between dream-state and reality, we finally learn what happened to her in the woods that awful day. Well, we learn most of it, but that is the way that Camille would want it. No one sees everything. Watching these football players undress with eyes like rabid dogs waiting to prey on Camille is extremely hard to stomach.
Because too many of us know someone that was directly affected by sexual assault and rape, these scenes are difficult to watch. However, as Jean-Marc Vallée shows us from a technical point of view, they are perfectly crafted and constructed to make the viewer feel extremely uncomfortable. From the color changes to the brilliant use of audio, editing techniques, handheld cameras and more, the viewer feels like we are trapped in those massive woods and terrifying shed. Yet, in reality, we are not. And that makes it much worse knowing how we feel about it is nothing compared to the way it has changed and altered Camille’s life forever.
So, I leave you with this, what is scarier than something that runs too deep? On the surface, sure, there are hundreds of thousands of scary stories out there that will make your skin crawl. But, when we dig deep into the dark and twisted history of Wind Gap, we start to see just how poisoned (this makes sense now) its roots really are. From cycles of abuse, to sexism, racism, gossip, fear, corruption, cover-ups, demons, silence and more, we start to see the true shapes and sizes of Wind Gap take form.
Let’s use The Exorcist and IT for example. The Exorcist is often voted as one of the scariest films of all-time, while IT is often described as one of the scariest novels. What is universally terrifying about them both is the fact that infinite demons, Pazuzu and Pennywise, find home in a young girl to possess and a town full of small children to eat. When space and time warp into something that we cannot comprehend, it scares us deep down into our cores. Just like in Derry, Maine, the town of Wind Gap, Missouri has a history that smells of violence, corruption, death, darkness, suffering, pain, abuse, and even demons(Woman in White/Pazuzu/Pennywise) that roam the land.
However, in Sharp Objects, we see that these demons are walking, talking, breathing humans. Do they seem that much different than the Pennywises and Pazuzus of American literature and films? Not really. But, seeing them in human form makes my skin crawl and Gillian Flynn, Jean-Marc Vallée and his team know exactly what they are doing.
Am I more terrified of the thought that a mother killed her own child or that she is going to do it again?
The fact that several people in this town know what is going on but won’t say a word?
Is it the small town cover-ups firing nurses from their jobs for knowing too much about Marian’s death?
Or is it Chief Vickery’s strange closeness with Adora? (even he is worried at the end of Ep. 7)
Or could it be the fact that Amma is overpowering, menacing and terrifying until she is a just sweet little sick angel in the care of her own sick mother?
Or is it the fact that I saw a mother openly bite her child to cause her pain and suffering so that she could care for her?
When I really break it down, it’s baffling how much has been covered in seven episodes.
With one week left, we’ll all find out the true secrets in Wind Gap, Missouri, and I have a feeling we are all in for some crazy shit ahead.
Buckle up, folks.
Episode 8 (Finale) runs on HBO at 9 pm EST on Sunday evening.