A promising premise derailed by predictability
I’m one of the few people left that hasn’t read Paula Hawkins’ bestseller, The Girl on the Train (2015), so I went into Tate Taylor’s adaptation with an open mind. Allured by the promise of a gritty thriller, I curiously climbed aboard hoping for a white-knuckle journey. Instead, I was left wanting more from a story that derailed before the final stop.
The Girl on the Train follows Rachel (Emily Blunt), an unstable alcoholic who is fixated on her former husband Tom’s (Justin Theroux) new life with his wife Anna (Rebecca Ferguson) and baby girl. We quickly learn that the catalyst for Rachel’s addiction was her inability to have a child of her own when she was with Tom, which makes watching his new life all the more heartwrenching. Rachel takes the train twice a day every day and passes her old house, where Tom now lives with Anna, and fails not to look each time. On her travels, Rachel also becomes besotted with the perfect couple in her eyes, Megan (Haley Bennett) and Scott (Luke Evans), who happen to live a few doors down from her old home. It’s only when Rachel witnesses Megan betraying her husband that the story begins to pick up steam, culminating in Megan’s death and a hazy whodunit story.
Blunt is undoubtedly the driving force behind the movie, keeping it on track for most of it. The entire plot relies on Rachel’s drinking problem and subsequent blackouts as a result, which ensures the truth is always kept just out of reach. Using an alcoholic’s amnesia may be a convenient plot device, but it’s effective and makes Rachel an unreliable, yet sympathetic narrator. When we learn that she simply rides the train to keep up appearances after losing her job as a result of her alcoholism, it’s hard not to pity her. Blunt plays both the bleary-eyed and unhinged drunk equally well, particularly demonstrated by a chilling bathroom scene that sees her describe in graphic detail what she would do to Megan after witnessing her infidelity. The camera is an unapologetic close up of Blunt’s face via the mirror and doesn’t leave throughout her psychotic monologue that climaxes in her violently screaming and smearing lipstick all over the mirror.
With such a strong performance from Blunt, the supporting cast are undeniably weak in comparison. Both Anna and Megan are loathsome caricatures, embodying the absurd expectations of women as housewives and mothers. While Anna is the clichéd parent who believes raising a child is the most rewarding job you can have, Megan is the restless hussy who escapes the confines of her marriage by seducing any man she can. There’s one particularly eye-rolling moment when Megan sucks the finger of her therapist to tempt him, which belittles women in an infuriating instant. The same goes for the men of the movie, who are depicted as aggressive, manipulative and motivated purely by sex – basically, everything your mother warned you about growing up. Whether this exaggeration of abhorrent characteristics is deliberate, it’s unclear, but it comes across as patronisingly pessimistic and ensures there’s not a likeable character amongst the supporting cast.
Therein lies the problem with The Girl on the Train – once you realise how men are portrayed, it’s abundantly clear who is responsible for Megan’s death after the prime suspects have been ruled out. While it manages to keep up the mystique for most of the movie, the plot shows its hand too soon and the twist becomes as predictable as the repugnant characters. The use of flashbacks is also a stale method of unveiling the truth, but at least the scenes are unashamedly realistic, depicting the brutality of violence. Megan’s death scene is especially harrowing, with stomach churning sounds that illustrate the barbarity of murder.
The Girl on the Train will be remembered for Blunt’s performance and little else. While the premise had the potential to be a dark thriller, in reality it is more of an overdramatic representation of the worst parts of men and women, pitting them against each other for sport. Unlike those who like to read the book before seeing the film, I’m often compelled to read the book as a result of watching the adaptation. In this case, however, I won’t be jumping on the bandwagon.