The Girl on the Train (2016)
The Girl on the Train (2016)

Genre: Mystery and Thriller Running Time: 1 hr. 52 min.

Release Date: October 7th, 2016 MPAA Rating: R

Director: Tate Taylor Actors: Emily Blunt, Haley Bennett, Rebecca Ferguson, Justin Theroux, Luke Evans, Edgar Ramirez, Laura Prepon, Allison Janney, Lisa Kudrow




achel Watson (Emily Blunt) stares longingly out the window during her twice-daily train commute to and from Manhattan. She spies on the houses and their inhabitants, creating her own idyllic fantasies of what goes on in their lives. In particular, Rachel obsesses over young couple Megan (Haley Bennett) and Scott (Luke Evans), whom she believes to exhibit what she no longer has: true love. And, although she prefers not to admit it, Rachel can’t help but pry into the affairs of the house two doors down, where her ex-husband Tom (Justin Theroux) lives with his new wife Anna (Rebecca Ferguson). As Rachel slips deeper into depression and jealousy during her daily surveillances, she glimpses Megan with another man and becomes exceedingly distraught at the thought of the girl’s unfaithfulness. After a night of drinking, Rachel blacks out and awakens the next morning disheveled and covered in blood. When Megan goes missing, and a police detective (Allison Janney) starts probing into Rachel’s whereabouts, the amnesia-afflicted woman must attempt to piece together the truth about what happened that night.

Opening with the admittance of an overactive imagination and the obvious themes of voyeurism and envy, “The Girl on the Train” quickly establishes very specific circumstances that allow the protagonist to spy on the lives of not-so-distant strangers. A train that passes by homes from a viewable range, paired with couples with unusually outdoorsy habits (or casual sex in front of uncommonly exposed windows) isn’t exactly the most relatable routine. But, at least it’s a somewhat original premise. It doesn’t possess the naturalness of “Rear Window” or the dreamlike frenzy of “Vertigo,” but it has its moments. Clearly, director Tate Taylor has taken a few cues from Hitchcock.

Things take a turn for the worse when multiple narrators are introduced, which isn’t so much an attribute of creativity as it is gimmicky. It doesn’t help that the other two perspectives have almost no bearing on the plot; this is made painfully apparent when flashbacks, unconvincing misdirection, and drunken visions are cumulatively utilized for viewpoints beyond the interactions of the primary player. Each narrator has supporting mysteries to solve as well, revealed as slow revelations, piece by piece, in repetitive footage that adds just a few seconds onto the previous iteration (coincidentally, like in “Edge of Tomorrow,” which also starred Blunt). And on top of all that, the editor feels the need to skip around in chronology, telling stories and backstories entirely out of order. And though Rachel is the main character, she’s mostly unsympathetic (if not the least agreeable of the trio), particularly as hints of “Gone Girl,” “Fatal Attraction,” “Sleeping with the Enemy,” and even “Gaslight” or “Rebecca” surface from time to time.

Plenty of familial drama and interconnected relationships put strain on the running time as the pacing fails to maintain regular suspense, growing more tiresome when Rachel intrudes in the murder mystery uninhibited by the police (or restraining orders or her own concerns for personal safety). Additionally, many personas are unbelievably brave in the face of certain dangers. There’s a correlative inconsistency with patterns of behavior as well – notable when physical addresses are suddenly known, or when levels of abusiveness fluctuate, or simply the fact that no one seems to want to move out of houses with incredible amounts of morbid history. Mysteries like this tend to attract more scrutiny to the details than other genre pictures, so it’s no wonder that one of the most upsetting developments occurs right at the start with Anna, who says of her nanny when she spontaneously quits, “I thought you were happy here. You seemed happy.” For some reason, Anna never takes note of Megan’s refusal to smile, or her exaggerated sense of disgust at just being around a baby.

Unfortunately, when the murderer is finally revealed, it’s not much of a surprise. And, ultimately, displaying an unguessable, twisty mystery is all “The Girl on the Train” really had going for it; the independently amusing elements are mixed together into a plot that feels reminiscent of so many other contemporary thrillers (along with some popular classics, too). The movie does, however, feature a superb turn by Emily Blunt, though the characterization is generally so unfavorable that she’ll be hard-pressed to gain much critical recognition, especially as the end of the year’s more prominent Oscar bait tries to dilute her performance.

– The Massie Twins

  • 4/10