Housewives Desperate for Horror: The Girl on the Train (2016) Review

Housewives Desperate for Horror: The Girl on the Train (2016) Review

From the moment we begin with Emily Blunt’s voice over in The Girl on the Train there’s something terribly unsettling. For those of us who commute everyday, the activities of people in the houses that we stream past are inconsequential. With fully charged laptops, kindles, i(anything); it’s a time to unwind and it’s a time to decompress. Blunt's Rachel is transfixed to avatars for a life she yearns to live.

With films such as The Help (2011) and Get on Up (2014), director Tate Taylor is a filmmaker has established himself as somewhat of a period filmmaker, adapting books and a man interested in portrayals of  women and people of colour. The Girl on the Train takes him out of this biographical mode into a contemporary setting, flipping the picturesque affluent suburbia north of New York City into a treacherous and shadowy moor; however, there's a huge ensemble of women characters battling the expectations of the fallout of relationships with men. A pining commuter (Blunt) punctuates her day with characters that she observes along her journey is shaken when she discovers that the woman whose imagined life had formed a certain ideal for her, she feels personally betrayed and feels drawn to intervene. When the woman, Megan (Haley Bennett), goes missing Rachel is dragged into the investigation. 

Screenwriter Erin Cressida Wilson adapts novelist Paula Hawkins’ material; locking you into Rachel’s plight. The story slowly unwraps the facts around Rachel in a series of flashbacks to the surrounding characters. The audience is ahead of Rachel (just) and the theories and assumptions of the characters surrounding Megan. Luke Evan’s Scott, Edgar Ramírez's Dr Abdic and Allison Janney’s Detective Riley eventually cross paths with Rachel and she’s forced to lie about how she’s involved because of the bizarre turn of events that leads her into this situation. The more you’re drawn into the dark secrets if Megan’s life you begin to look back at the unreliable narrator that you’ve trusted until this point. 

The yearning of Emily Blunt’s Rachel about the the fantasy life that she’s imagining for Bennett’s Megan feels too specific. Rachel’s innocent commute focus on that particular stretch of area that can be viewed from the train begins to reveal that Rachel is a completely unreliable narrator. Rachel, played tremendously by Blunt, is just oozing desperation, and exists in a permanent haze of self medication (booze). She stares outside her train car, toward her former life, a life where she resorted to alcohol because she and her ex-husband Tom (Justin Theroux) could not conceive. We’re told that her alcoholism and depression drove him into the arms of another woman, his new wife and mother of his child  Anna (Rebecca Ferguson).  Blunt wields her usual ‘girl next door’ charm and mutates it into a terrifying drunken loose canon of emotional impulse. Her drunken blackouts become gaps in the crime timeline. The victims Megan’s absence, become pawns in her pursuit for satisfaction. It's some pretty grim, perverse stuff.

At time Taylor can't reign the film in from feeling like affluent white housewife horror melodrama. In the same way that Japanese horror such as The Ring took little girls, the source of cuteness and mutated into something that makes you give your nieces shifty looks. The Girl on the Train's synopsis also feels like something ripped from every T.V soap. PR hotshot Rachel, living in upstate New York, struggling to conceive with her husband and turns everyone of her flaws and insecurities into violent, sociopathic outbursts.  She is one of a tapestry of universally beautiful white people, whose affluence means a somewhat graceful alcohol fuelled stumble to rock bottom. To differentiate the content, the characters are tortured in particularly heinous ways. 

Blunt delivers a dizzying and phenomenal leading performance. The ensemble are terrific across the board, particularly brief but necessary voices of reason in the form of Larua Prepon’s Cathy and Janney’s Det. Riley. For the first hour of the film Ferguson’s Anna felt like a waste of terrific actor, but by the closing credits she demonstrates the great and selfless ensemble player that she is.  At times in the film, the subjects are so deplorable and callous in the face of the tragic disappearance that you’re not sure how much you can endure. Endure, ride it all stations; one way only. 

★★★

Directed by: Tate Taylor
Written by: Erin Cressida Wilson (based on the novel by Paula Hawkins    )
Starring: 
Emily Blunt    ...    Rachel
Haley Bennett    ...    Megan
Rebecca Ferguson    ...    Anna
Justin Theroux    ...    Tom
Luke Evans    ...    Scott
Edgar Ramírez    ...    Dr. Kamal Abdic (as Édgar Ramírez)
Laura Prepon    ...    Cathy
Allison Janney    ...    Detective Riley
Darren Goldstein    ...    Man in the Suit

Blake Howard is a writer, a podcaster, the editor-in-chief & co-founder of Australian film blog Graffiti With Punctuation. Beginning his criticism APPRENTICESHIP as co-host of That Movie Show 2UE, Blake is now a member of the prestigious Online Film Critic Society, sways the Tomato Meter with Rotten Tomatoes approved reviews. See his articulated words and shrieks (mostly) here at Graffitiwithpunctuation.com and with DarkHorizons.com & 2SER Sydney weekly on Gaggle of Geeks.