The Girl on the Train is a predictable but absorbing psycho-thriller that takes itself a bit too seriously before turning melodramatic.
If there was an award for 2016 trailer of the year, The Girl on the Train would have to be hot favourite to take it off. The set-up as it’s presented in the promo is Hitchcockian: an inebriated witness to a missing young woman apparently vanishing into thin air wakes up caked with blood and begins to question whether she might be responsible for her murder.
Disappointingly, the film is nowhere near as intriguing as its misleading trailer. The missing woman doesn’t disappear – she’s driven off in a car by someone known to her. So, the enticing vanishing mystery implied by the trailer turns out to be a fairly standard crime scenario.
That said, the film’s not short on intrigue. We don’t get to learn the identity of the driver or what happens to the missing woman until late in the movie, and there’s plenty to keep us interested en route. Not to mention dollops of sex, nudity, voyeurism and violence, and some pop-psychology by numbers for the amateur psychoanalysts in the audience.
The titular protagonist, Rachel (well played by a bleary-eyed Emily Blunt, who manages to look haunted and tortured – haggard, even), is the only character with any complexity, an enigma wrapped in a riddle. An alcoholic divorcee, she spends her days travelling back and forth on a train that passes her marital home, in which ex-husband Tom (Justin Theroux) has now installed his new glam blonde wife Anna (Rebecca Ferguson). To add insult to injury, they have had a child (when married, Rachel had unsuccessfully tried to conceive through IVF).
A couple of doors down lives another attractive blonde woman, Megan (Haley Bennett). Sitting in her train carriage sipping vodka through a straw, Rachel watches this stranger with her affectionate husband and idealises her as living the perfect life. Her fantasy is shattered when she sees Megan with another man, kissing on the balcony.
No longer content to be a passive observer, Rachel manoeuvres herself into the perimeter of her subject’s life, and subsequently finds herself enmeshed in a murder investigation.
The narrative unfolds in a series of flashbacks interspersed with the present, from 6 months earlier, to 3 months, to 1 month and so on. This rather clumsy countdown device is no doubt intended to tease the viewer along with breadcrumbs of information and ratchet up the tension as the story progresses. In fact, the result is a somewhat plodding pace and some confusion, and there’s a faintly irritating sense that we’re being played. You expect sleight-of-hand and measured release of withheld information in films like this, but it’s all a bit too obviously managed here.
When we’re taken inside the worlds of the people Rachel’s been spying on, the contrast between their realities and the fantasies she has constructed around them make for absorbing viewing. The centrepiece of the film, though, is Rachel’s struggle to come to terms with a destructive past relationship that continues to tear at her and extricate herself from its grip.
The film becomes ever more melodramatic as it enters its final stages, descending into schlock horror at the climax. This is jarring and implausible, but also funny (albeit unintentionally), and satisfying in that some blood-gushing poetic justice is doled out – the most enjoyable part of the film for me. The filmmakers might have upped the entertainment value throughout if they’d been less intent on fashioning a très serious film from material that is essentially pretty pulpy, messed with the tone a little and injected some black humour into the mix.
Movie website: http://www.thegirlonthetrainmovie.com/
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