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Film Review: The Girl on the Train

By | Published October 22, 2016

‘The Girl on the Train’, directed by Tate Taylor (‘The Help’), is the highly anticipated adaptation of Paula Hawkins’s bestselling novel; set to be one of the biggest box office hits of this year. As someone who saw the film prior to reading the book, I didn’t know much about the plot of ‘The Girl on the Train’, especially as the trailer sets the tone of mystery by giving little away, but this by no means detracted from my enjoyment of the film. If anything, my ignorance meant that I was swept along with many twists and turns of the plot in earnest, and was kept guessing throughout.

The ‘girl on the train’ is Rachel Watson, an alcoholic and emotionally unstable divorcee (captivatingly and convincingly played by Emily Blunt), who becomes obsessed with Megan Hipwell (Hayley Bennett) and her husband Scott (Luke Evans) whom she has never met but watches from the train as she commutes past their house on her way to work. Harrowed by her recent separation from her ex-husband Tom (Justin Theroux) – who she regularly harasses both by phone and in person – this young, beautiful and devoted couple seem to Rachel a picture of marital happiness, representing everything that she lost, until on one of her journeys she witnesses something that shatters this image: Megan stood on the balcony of their perfect house, kissing another man. Infuriated by Megan’s willingness to throw away her outwardly flawless married life, Rachel binges on alcohol and drunkenly fantasizes about attacking Megan.

The next morning, Rachel awakes – heavily disorientated and covered in blood – to find that one of the top news stories is that Megan Hipwell has disappeared. After seeing her stumbling around near their house, just a few doors down from the Hipwells’s, Tom’s new wife Anna (Rebecca Ferguson) reports Rachel to the police. Finding herself at the centre of a missing persons investigation, with no memory of what she was doing at the time of Megan’s disappearance, Rachel starts to piece together the events of that night to find out who is to blame. Whilst her sleuthing casts suspicions on the other characters, the viewer can’t help but wonder whether it is simply a desperate attempt to cover her own tracks.

The camera for the most part follows Rachel as she stumbles through her investigations, and intermittently reveals glimpses into the lives of the central characters – none of which are who they seem. Though a series of flashbacks and fly-on-the-wall insights into their home lives, the film gradually uncovers the fatal interconnection of the characters’ lives.

Still from the movie of Megan, played by Haley Bennett

Still from the movie of Megan, played by Haley Bennett.

Fans of the book have been outraged by the changes made to the story, such as the displacement of the setting from London to New York, suggesting that it detracts from the ‘grit’ of the narrative, however this alteration provides a contrast that works well cinematically. Placing Blunt’s drunk and disheveled protagonist amongst Manhattan city-workers and polished suburbanites emphasizes her fall from grace, and makes her hollow-eyed intoxication ever more pitiful.

Taylor’s film finds an obvious parallel in David Fincher’s 2014 adaptation of ‘Gone Girl’, with its similar manipulation of perspective and its portrayal of the female leads as deeply disturbed. However, where ‘Gone Girl’ is a thriller that aims to shock, ‘The Girl on the Train’, with it’s multifaceted plot, crosses into the realm of a mystery film in how it keeps you questioning until the very end.

‘The Girl on the Train’ does everything that one would hope a thriller would; throwing up numerous red herrings on it’s way to uncovering the truth, providing multiple tense moments and maintaining an eerily threatening atmosphere throughout. The highlight of the piece has got to be the moment of revelation in one of its closing scenes, in which (not to spoil the ending) the character responsible for Megan’s disappearance is revealed, and another unexpected truth becomes clear. All of the loose ends are neatly tied, leaving the viewer feeling satisfied in the film’s resolution, and where the quote that echoes within the film – “I’m not the girl I used to be” – was previously unsettling and disturbing, by the end of the film it instills us with a hope that the prevailing characters can get their derailed lives back on track.

‘The Girl on the Train’ is in cinemas now, certified for ages 15 and over, and suitable for young and old audiences alike – although maybe don’t take your grandma to see it if you’d rather avoid unnecessary awkwardness when faced with graphic violence and scenes of a sexual nature.