As an avid movie-goer and psychological-thriller fanatic, I was incredibly excited to find out that Paula Hawkins’s The Girl on the Train was being adapted into a film. Told from the perspective of Rachel Watson (Emily Blunt), Megan Hipwell (Haley Bennett), and Anna Watson (Rebecca Ferguson), the voices of these three women are woven together to create a complex and disturbingly brilliant masterpiece.
What is so powerful about the film is its ability to entrance you; the subtle introduction of Emily Blunt’s character sitting casually on a train, commuting to work, watching out the window as large, beautiful homes pass by, instantly draws you in. Her cool observations about a young couple (Bennett and Luke Evans) that she spots every day as the train jolts to a stop on the tracks seem to stem from a longing innocence for her ex-husband (Justin Thoreaux), whose remarried to his mistress, Anna. However, as the film progresses, each character is revealed in a darker shade, and it is unclear who exactly to cast suspicion on when tragedy inevitably strikes.
Superficially, it seems like a jumbled, disorganised string of short clips, as if someone accidentally deleted the final edits, tried their best to remember where everything went, and didn’t quite get the order right. The narrator’s voice constantly shifts: you’re never sure whose memory you’re reliving – if it is a memory at all – or when anything takes place, but that is what is so artistically brilliant. From the opening scene, you’re invested. You can’t take your eyes off the screen for fear that you might miss an important, incriminating detail. Even though the flashbacks are a little disorienting, they are easier to keep up with simply because you become fiercely and damningly dedicated to figuring out the puzzle. Each scene reveals something new that alters your perspective, like a single thread unravelling the entire tapestry. And just when you think you’ve finally solved it – that euphoric moment of “AHA! I know EXACTLY what the twist is!” – something else catches you off guard, and you’re left on the edge of your seat, absolutely perplexed.
What is also so clever about the film, and true to the psychological thriller genre, is the underlying balance between mystery and realism. Blunt’s raw and heart-wrenching performance as a devastated alcoholic and divorcee, whose husband leaves her for another woman, grounds the film as a gritty and eye-opening commentary on humanity and loss. The entire film is structured around her addiction. The sharp, seemingly misplaced throwbacks to the past coupled with the somewhat hazy, imperceptible transitions to the present mirrors her inebriated state as she tries to remember her actions. Such powerful cinematography makes you feel as if you are trying to remember right along with her, as if you know what has happened deep down but simply cannot piece it together.
The film also stays relatively true to the book, an impressive feat which few recent blockbuster hits have been able to successfully achieve. Surprisingly, the only major difference from page to screen is location. While the book is set in the London suburbs, the film takes place in New York City. This transition, however, is utterly seamless; the uniquely urbanised qualities of both cities provide the perfect, grey backdrop for the movie’s discordant and unnerving rhythm. A couple of new scenes are also added, but they only serve to clarify the plot. Ultimately, the integrity of the novel is maintained throughout; only slight alterations are made to convey perspectives which would otherwise be lost in Rachel’s alcohol-induced stupor.
My only critique? Although the build of tension and suspense in the film is unprecedented in subtle, not-always-scene-stealing ways, the ending is…unsatisfactory. For as much as it threw me for a loop, the twist didn’t play out quite as climatically or tragically as the idea itself deserved. I was hoping for something that would leave me gasping for breath; however, I was only quietly unsettled. Maybe it is that I personally enjoy movies that are impossible to stop thinking about when you leave the cinema. The Girl on the Train ties up all the loose ends nicely, though, if somewhat predictably. There are no “what if’s?” The unanswerable is answered. The investigation wraps, and the rest of the world learns to move on. End of story.
Does it live up to the book? It does, so definitely see it if you’re in the mood for a beautifully cinematographic piece that is suspenseful, tragic, and darkly clever, but don’t get your hopes up for an ending that will blow your mind. It is not revolutionary like similar films, such as Gone Girl, but the thrilling performances alone are absolutely worth a watch.