What would you do if you realized that there are aspects of your life that you have completely missed and the truth of what you’ve been living isn’t real? The Girl on the Train doesn’t particularly set out to answer this question, which is a shame. The film, based on the novel by Paula Hawkins, is a mystery thriller that sometimes touches on fascinating aspects of character development, only to then turn into a Lifetime film with a bloody and unsatisfying end.
“She’s everything I lost. She’s everything I want to be,” says Rachel (Emily Blunt) as she creepily watches Megan (Haley Bennett), a complete stranger to her, from the train. The obsession with watching Megan is, in part, due to the fact that Rachel’s own life is a miserable one and she believes the life the other woman leads to be one of perfection. Rachel rides the train into Manhattan everyday, sits in the same car, and watches Megan be happy with her husband, Scott (Luke Evans). We discover fairly soon that Rachel used to live two houses down from Megan, once sharing a home with her husband, Tom (Justin Theroux), who left her to be with Anna (Rebecca Ferguson).
Rachel’s stalking and curiosity eventually find her in the middle of an investigation after Megan disappears without a trace. An alcoholic who constantly blacks out, Rachel finds herself plunged into a mystery that places her at the scene of Megan’s last known location. With no alibi, she takes it upon herself to find out what happened, involving herself in a situation that reveals connections and truths she isn’t quite prepared for.
It’s the thrill of the chase and mystery of the disappearance. The characters kind of take a back seat and in a lot of ways, the plot drives the story, not the other way around. Told largely through Rachel’s perspective, we become privy to the fact that something is amiss early on. Her memory isn’t always reliable and makes the unfolding mystery easier to tell because of it.
However, the film is less concerned with expanding on Rachel’s story. We understand later the truth behind certain events and how they were twisted in her memory, but the skipping around between flashbacks and present day disentangle us from the central characters. Sure, there is some sympathy to go around, but because it never really delves into certain character’s motivations, the rapport we may have had with any of them often falls flat.
Tate Taylor’s direction is unable to adapt to the flow of the plot. Emily Blunt’s performance saves the movie from going completely off the rails, clearly portraying Rachel’s emotional instability and constant weariness in every scene, adding weight to an otherwise weightless script. On the flip side, Haley Bennett does well with the little she’s given, adding some depth to Megan’s story, while Rebecca Ferguson gets the short end of the stick. Ultimately, however, The Girl on the Train shortchanges its characters for mystery and shock value, culminating in a bloody finale. But it’s all too underwhelming, stagnant, and the film’s ending, especially, leaves a lot to be desired.
The Girl on the Train opens nationwide October 7, 2016.
Photos courtesy of Dreamworks/Universal Pictures