Review: ‘Sharp Objects’ Episode 1, ‘Vanish’

*WARNING, SPOILERS BELOW*

Having read and thoroughly enjoyed Gillian Flynn’s debut novel, “Sharp Objects,” I was hoping HBO would make up for its “Fahrenheit 451” debacle. After all, the channel known for its great original content had one thing going for it this time: the ability to use the novelist, who is also a great playwright, to help with this adaptation.

If Episode 1, “Vanish,” is any indicator, HBO has proved that F451 was a minor blip in its superb track record of adapting great fiction.

The series opens differently than the novel, with young Camille and Marian visiting contemporary Camille in a dream that teases her cutting. I was a bit disappointed with this, as the revelation that she is a cutter, and the extreme nature of her cutting, is a fairly large reveal in the novel. Though Flynn does foreshadow the carving of words into her skin in the novel, it is in a much less obvious way (writing the words on her skin with pens, etc.).

The rest of the episode, however, stays pretty close to the novel, with some scenes being nearly direct adaptations. Of course, with the time and visual constraints of television, there are some distinct differences in timing that can’t be avoided. We’re introduced to Detective Richard Willis, John Keene, and Jackie O’Neele earlier than I’d anticipated, though to introduce them in the second or third episode of a limited series wouldn’t have been good television.

Perhaps the biggest change that I favor is where Camille works. In the series, she’s working for a fictional newspaper in St. Lous, which makes a lot more sense than one from Chicago, which is where Novel Camille works. When I read the novel, I always thought Chicago was a bit too far away for the Missouri Bootheel, though I understood that Camille having moved out of Missouri part of her character. However, The Tennessean (Nashville) or Oklahoman would have been closer, and more believable for me.

In terms of tone, I think the folks at HBO have struck a great chord. They included the flashback in the woods and Camille’s masturbation, which will help set up more of her character’s development down the line.

But, perhaps above all else, “Vanish” ends the way it needed to, with the reveal of the cutting and the highlighting of the word VANISH on Amy Adams’ skin. For those who didn’t read the novel, it’s a great way to get the audience to keep watching. And, for those of us who did read the novel (and, if you’re like me, re-read it before the show) having the word glow a bit is a nod to the novel, which has Camille’s skin “tingling” with the words “shouting” at her throughout.

Because this blog is focused on the series versus novel, I won’t dive into the acting too much, except to say that it’s stellar so far. Amy Adams is everything I’d hoped for, and Chris Messina has been a favorite of mine for a while. As for the children, Sophia Lillis as young Camille is excellent, and it will be interesting to see how Eliza Scanlan plays Amma as her character becomes increasingly more wicked.

A couple other differences between the series and novel:

  • Camille smokes a bit in this first episode. I don’t believe she did in the novel. It didn’t ruin anything for me, just seems unnecessary to add that to her character, which was made plenty interesting by the somewhat guilty drinking and constant urge to cut again.
  • There appears to be one girl missing from Amma’s crew. I wonder if they axed Jodes or the other Kelsey? They are also not all fair-haired beauties, which doesn’t matter a whole lot, I suppose.

Things I want to see in Episode 2:

  • Adora’s bedroom and its floor.
  • More of the interior of Amma’s dollhouse, including Adora’s bedroom floor.
  • An explanation of the iPhone-as-an-iPod (which I also have). My initial assumption is that it’s Marian’s old iPhone. This is one example of the updated technology in the adaptation since the novel is more than a decade old now. I also hope Camille uses either her phone or a digital recorder rather than the cassette recorder from the book.

One irrelevant gripe:

  • I find it highly unlikely that, in a southern town like Wind Gap, the barkeep would have played anything other than the Johnny Cash version of “Ring of Fire,” even if it was supposed to be a Karaoke bar.

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