Unlike (seemingly) the rest of the world, I had not delved into the phenomenon that is Paula Hawkins’ novel, and consequently knew nothing of the plot when I sat down to watch The Girl on the Train last Sunday. In all honestly, I didn’t read it because as soon as I heard the words ‘unreliable narrator’, I thought ‘Gone Girl’, and one psychological thriller is enough for me. Yet many of my friends had read and raved about the book, eagerly anticipating the film, and so it was that I, along with my scepticism, joined them for a showing.
To my surprise, the cinema was empty. Given that it was a weekend screening of perhaps one of the most awaited films of the year, I found this a little unsettling. Although, then again, it was a particularly bright afternoon so perhaps the population of Exeter had flocked down to the Quay. Looking back, I half wish I’d joined them.
It wasn’t terrible. Not by a long shot. But neither was it the racy, gripping thriller that both the book fans and the trailer had made it out to be. In fact, for the majority of the film, I was only mildly interested in what was going on. This is a shame because the protagonist, Rachel, a tortured alcoholic who (somehow) sips away at straight vodka during her daily commute, is played very convincingly by Emma Blunt. And I could even see the potentially intriguing elements of the storyline – the blackouts, the insidious relationships and the voyeurism – but they somehow failed to resonate.
Perhaps this was because the film jumped about from two months ago to the present day to last week and then back to the present day again, all the while altering between different characters’ perspectives. It was confusing to say the least. And even if it were told in a more straightforward manner, there were some glaring holes in the plot that were too distracting to fully appreciate the story.
Allow me to explain. The book, so I am told, is set in London. Rachel watches the apparently perfect lives of two couples who live a few doors down from each other in a row of terraced houses, next to which her commuter train stops each day at red a signal. Makes sense.
In the film, however, for no apparent reason, they decided to set it just outside of New York, and instead of stopping next to this row of terraced houses, the train stops alongside a few large white suburban homes with rolling lawns that stretch out between the houses and the tracks where Rachel is situated. Now, forgive me if I’m wrong, but I’m pretty sure superhuman vision is not a side effect of alcoholism.
While Rachel wasn’t exactly likeable, her character does do well to make our hungover regrets seem pretty insubstantial, and at least she did have quite a bit of depth to her. The same cannot be said for many of the other characters, particularly for Rachel’s ex-husband’s new wife, Anna (Rebecca Ferguson), who was so bland I’m surprised I can still remember her name. According to the book fans, she was given a lot more of a say in Hawkins’ novel, so it seems as though someone has been cutting some corners.
When one of the white-home dwellers, Megan (Haley Bennett), goes missing, Rachel involves herself as a self-proclaimed detective. Interesting, given that her derailed lifestyle and drunken blackouts also make her a key suspect. But this action is slow-moving and disjointed, and so it wasn’t until about three-quarters of the way into the film, when there was a decent twist that I admit I had not seen coming, when my interested was finally awakened. And then there was all the violence and hard-hitting brutal scenes that you would expect from a thriller, but this late coming of the intrigue really did cause the film to suffer.
The Girl on the Train has all the ingredients for a decent film noir – blurred shots and tormented characters – but sadly, for many of the book fans especially, it comes off as pretty average. “I’m not the girl I used to be”, says Rachel’s voiceover, and neither, evidently, is the film the thriller it should have been.
– Anna Bonet