“The Girl On The Train” Is An Intriguing Suburban Thriller Despite The Spectre Of “Gone Girl” Looming Over It
Based on Paula Hawkins’ bestseller, Emily Blunt is The Girl On The Train in this mystery-thriller from The Help director Tate Taylor. Lyndon Wells finds plenty to enjoy despite the film not reaching the heights of the similarly themed Gone Girl.
The “girl” on the train is divorcee Rachel, played by a down-trodden Emily Blunt. She rides the train daily past her old house, now occupied by her ex-husband and new family. She becomes engrossed watching her old street including neighbour Megan (Hayley Bennett). Rachel’s obsessive and drunk behaviour lands her in the wrong place at the wrong time and she finds herself a witness in a police investigation.
First things first, you can’t discuss this film without referencing Gone Girl. David Fincher’s 2014 thriller – also based on a popular book – is the high watermark all future surbarban/marital thrillers will be judged. The Girl on the Train is a solid film, but unfortunately not as good as Gone Girl.
It uses a similar literal structure with simultaneous timelines, drip feeding the audience just enough detail until the third act revelations. It is split between the present day and scenes starting six months previously working towards the present day. There are also flashbacks from the “girl” to a previous relationship breakdown. Blunt is the eponymous character and it is her perspective from which we begin. We are introduced, through title card character names, the other main female characters but the story belongs, unsurprisingly, to the “girl on the train”. Her observant, even stalking behaviour, is reminiscent of Hitchcock’s Rear Window as it evolves to include other houses on the street. She creates a fantasy about Megan and Scott Hipwell’s (Luke Evans) relationship which leads to her maybe seeing evidence relevant to future events.
The plot thickens when an inebriated Rachel stumbles upon Megan just before she disappears. In the midst of this and alongside timeline tomfoolery, the audience perspective is toyed with and bits of information are revealed to push us, the audience, a little step ahead of Rachel, but not too far as not to be shocked when the twists start coming. The middle act does slow down somewhat and at times lacks clear direction until the big reveals. There are some well-placed red-herrings, but their impact is not felt until the film’s close.
As with Gone Girl the thrilling twists do not come without their ludicrous edge inducing some unintentional audience laughter. To say anymore would enter into potential spoiler territory, but look out for the line “but you were so tired all the time!”
The film is well directed by Tate Taylor whose CV continues to impress after The Help and Get On Up. He has gathered an impressive ensemble cast, but Allison Janney is criminally underused, a great character actor given very little to do. The police procedural aspect is completely dispatched in favour of suburban discovery. Given the outcome of the final act the local station probably needs an independent enquiry into their shambolic investigation.
The audience The Girl On The Train will attract will not be disappointed and despite not reading the book myself I’m informed it is pretty faithful to its source. Unfortunately, the spectre of Gone Girl will forever be looming over this film despite being released two years ago. Fincher’s effort was exceptional and if it didn’t exist The Girl On The Train would probably garner a higher rating. So it’s a respectable three-star recommendation that will not disappoint, but will forever be known as the inferior Gone Girl film.