The would-be Hitchcockian thriller The Girl on the Train stars Emily Blunt as the newly divorced Rachel, who copes with her loneliness by turning to alcohol and spending her days as a passenger on a train that passes by her old neighborhood. From the comfort of the cabin car, she’s able to keep tabs on her ex-husband Tom (Justin Theroux) and his new wife Anna (Rebecca Ferguson), along with their newborn daughter Evie. Her subtle stalking takes a dark turn when she spots their next door neighbor Megan (Haley Bennett) in the midst of an affair and decides to confront her about the alleged behavior.
The primary mystery then centers around the Megan’s subsequent disappearance but to keep audiences guessing until the final reveal, director Tate Taylor constructs his story in a way that cheaply exploits Rachel’s alcohol-induced blackouts as a narrative gimmick. The fuzzy flashbacks grow in definition not because our protagonist is actually remembering things more clearly but rather because Taylor arbitrarily chooses which extra shot or camera angle he can add to hypothetically boost the suspense. The details of a key event prove to be more tedious than titillating with each re-visit and I was eventually hoping an extra was strapped with a GoPro somewhere in the scene so that we could finally get one coherent shot and just be done with it.
Of course such a notion is far too frivolous and playful to be considered by any of these characters, who are seldom allowed to exist outside a narrow spectrum of misery and self-loathing. Everyone is painted with the same broad strokes of discontent in a manner that feels both needlessly glum and wholly manufactured to make the audience mistake their moodiness for maturity. Only a handful of character interactions register as authentically human, while the rest are ripped straight from the soap operas and potboilers that likely acted as inspiration for the bestselling novel from which the movie was adapted.
These fleeting moments of honesty are brought forth from a staunchly committed performance by Blunt, whose Rachel serves as one of the film’s sole access points for empathy and humanity. Her bruised heroine mirrors the struggles of Nicole Kidman’s character from the thriller Before I Go To Sleep but Rachel’s alcohol dependency adds another challenge from a physical acting perspective atop the emotional workload that’s already in place. As an unreliable narrator, she forces us to battle our sympathy for her situation with our allegiance towards a version of the story that’s both sensible and satisfying.
The casting elsewhere is first-rate and the lack of other standout performances is likely a symptom of the sub-par material rather than a deficit of talent from the actors. As the sullen sexpot Megan, Haley Bennett reminded me of a more blasé and less relatable Jennifer Lawrence and Rebecca Ferguson, a revelation in last year’s Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation, doesn’t have the chance to develop anything meaningful in her repressed role. With awkward direction from Tate Taylor and a screenplay that favors shallow reveals over believable drama, The Girl on the Train simply doesn’t have what it needs to stay on track.