Whilst the plot may seem difficult to understand, it is easier in practice than the written synopsis would suggest.
Spoilers excluded, in short, it is the story of Rachel Watson’s (Emily Blunt) life post-divorce who, in taking the train to work every day, passes her old house and subsequently passes her ex-husbands’ new family. To divert from her own pain, she focuses on a neighbouring couple and their happiness until one day she notices something shocking. She reacts to this and wakes up the next day, hungover and covered in blood with no memory of how it happened. She only knows that something bad happened. The TV reports that the neighbour with whom she was obsessed, Megan Hipwell (Haley Bennett i.e major Jennifer Lawrence doppelgänger), has gone missing. Rachel becomes increasingly involved in the case and her own life leading up to these moments.
As somebody who hadn’t read the book but had researched it prior to committing to my choice of film, I approached The Girl on the Train with low expectations and anticipating confusion as to how the director would approach the change of narrative used within the novel. However, the flashback style narrative is smooth, if swift and the plot is very believable despite its potential for ridiculousness. The perspective of the film involves following Rachel as she chases the idealism that is neglected from her own life creating a double voyeurism: you as a viewer are effectively watching somebody as they watch other people. This creates the mystery of the film. Despite the change of character, you know little beyond Rachel’s understanding and the snippets that these insights provide only increase your eagerness to find the answers. The importance of the train, despite an unbelievably slow commute, highlights Rachel’s despair and her own recklessness. Due to this, she is able to witness the lives of others whilst wallowing in her own pity.
The acting of the film is exceptional and I believe that critics should be recognising the importance of this regardless of whether they felt the plot to be successful as a whole. Blunt’s portrayal of Rachel as the alcoholic, yet seemingly high-functioning ex-wife is a stark reminder that everybody is battling their own demons. Similarly, the depictions of Megan and Anna by Bennett and Rebecca Ferguson respectively are startlingly enticing. Embroiled within and interacting with all of these women is the ex-husband that Rachel so pathetically pines for, Tom (Justin Theroux) who plays his character much like Colin Firth in Before I Go to Sleep. The audience expects him to live up to his portrayal of perfect husband and abused ex-husband making the unravelling of the plot all the more exciting.
The combination of unwinding plot and brilliant acting genuinely gave me chills and caused me to gasp upon numerous occasions. The creation of not only a female psychopath come alcoholic, but a jealous wife and promiscuous neighbour lead to the female characters in this film creating the terror and suspension that it delivers. The fact that the plot creates many opportunities for female suspects to take centre stage avoiding the generic and male traditional route that many films of this genre follow genuinely impacts upon the viewer and will make hairs stand on edge.
If the buzz that the release of the film created isn’t enough to convince you that The Girl on the Train deserves one hour and fifty-two minutes of your precious time, perhaps the female involvement in production is. The film is not only based on a book written by a woman, Paula Hawkins, but the screenplay writer is also a woman, Erin Cressida Wilson. Add to that to a cast whereby not only the quality of the acting is dominated by women but the plot itself is and the film is a huge female success.
What’s disappointing, however, is that the film is indisputably slow to gain some speed, much like the train that Rachel rides every day and the suspense doesn’t build until a third of the way in. Additionally, whilst there is obvious female dominance, Tom continues to dictate the lives of these women and he occupies the root of their thoughts. I can’t help but feel that if the roles were reversed, this character would be further degraded and humiliated by the encounters in their lives. This could be the work of the director, Tate Taylor who taints the all-female ensemble of production.
Overall, however, The Girl on the Train absolutely lives up to the hype surrounding the trailer, which offers an enticing insight into the plot. If it were perhaps twenty minutes shorter in length and if it succeeded in its attempt of female dominance of the plot It might be considered one of the best films to be released in recent years of this genre. Ignore what the critics say, despite only being awarded 6.7 on IMDB and 44% on Rotten Tomatoes: The Girl on the Train is a very good film.