Ask anyone who grew up in a small town.
Change rarely amounts to a lick of good. Family businesses make local royalty of the generations who run them. Know your place and mind your own business. Except when you don't, because gossip does so soothe the grinding sameness. And strangers? Well, they're best welcomed with a healthy dose of suspicion. Particularly if they're native sons or daughters who turned their back on their roots and then came back unrecognizable.
Or if you think they might be a killer.
This is the world in which “Gone Girl” author Gillian Flynn set her 2006 debut novel “Sharp Objects,” crafting the tiny Missouri town of Wind Gap as ground zero for a thrilling character study that's part murder mystery, part shattering family drama.
“Objects” centers on troubled St. Louis reporter Camille Preaker, who fled Wind Gap after high school but is dispatched back to her hometown to write about the fallout from a pair of gruesome murders. Soon, Camille is swept into crushing personal and local secrets.
That she's fresh out of a psych hospital and fuels herself largely on booze and disdain only complicates matters.
On July 8, HBO debuted “Sharp Objects,” the perfect summer-thriller miniseries, cowritten by Flynn and Marti Noxon (“Dietland,” “UnREAL”) and directed with knee-buckling detail by Jean-Marc Vallée (“Big Little Lies”). The series also marks the return to television for Amy Adams, who last appeared on the small screen a dozen years ago. Since then, the flame-haired beauty became an A-list movie star, racking up five Oscar nominations for a diverse stable of movies from 2005's “Junebug” to 2013's “American Hustle.”
"It was incredibly beautiful to me," says Flynn of watching a 10-year production struggle end with Adams in the ravaged skin of a woman Flynn admits is her most personal character, and with Vallée in the director's chair. "There was a reason that it all took so long. I feel like, in a way, we were waiting for Amy to do it. And to watch her was very unnerving for me. It was very cathartic; a strange wave of awe and release and shock and wonderment to watch her be able to go through this."
"If I read something and the person is innately unlikable, and the note is, 'We need her to be likable,' I'm so not interested," Adams laughs. "I feel like flawed human beings can still be likable. You don't have to back off of imperfection to create a human being that you can identify with and cheer for." And so, Adams holds nothing back, her eyes by turns wild and haunted and her long hair serving as much as a shield for Camille's pain as the baggy black clothes the woman wears year-round to conceal the fact that she commemorates years of stinging insults and traumas by carving words into her own flesh.
When two preteen girls go missing weeks apart, their corpses eventually discovered with viciously extracted teeth, suspicion falls hard on one of the girls' relatives, though neither Camille nor Richard Willis (played by Adams' Julie & Julia costar Chris Messina) — a big-city detective dispatched to Wind Gap — believe it.
As the pair vie to unravel the mystery, Willis for professional reasons and Camille for increasingly disturbing personal ones, they realize dangerous forces are at work in a town where ladies still stay home and raise their babies and mourning mothers rewrite dead daughters' stories to keep the peace.
"Women turn in on themselves," Adams says. "They tend to implode with their dysfunction and be damaging to themselves. I think that's very true, and I hope that that's something that people see in Camille and find some catharsis in that. Because many times abuse that women suffer, they turn it inward. Gillian's so great at [portraying] that, and for [viewers] to be able to sort through the intergenerational violence these women are victims of and the way that it passes down through generations, it's very honest."
For good reason, says Flynn.
"We have come to a place — finally — where we've learned that not every woman's journey needs to be the hero's journey," says Flynn. "Not every woman's journey has to be this journey of triumph and goodness and shopping and shoes and winning. The question always was, 'Are we identifying with some piece of the struggle, be it the desire to be good, or the struggle to be good, or the struggle toward darkness?' Women have that exact same struggle, too, and to me, a lot of “Sharp Objects” is bound up in that."