During the ’80s and ’90s, there was a slew of erotic thrillers in cinema. Audiences rushed to the theaters to be enamored by Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction, Kim Basinger in 9 1/2 Weeks and Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct. There was something enrapturing I suppose, about seeing emotionally unstable women on the edge of their sanity. Despite these obvious problematic themes, these films served as a major part of the entertainment landscape for the time. Still, women with “hysterical wombs” have been regulated mostly (save for teen dramas and horror films) to relics of a past time. Therefore, not having read Paula Hawkins‘ 2015 psychological thriller on which The Girl on the Train is based, I was uncertain and a bit weary about what to expect when I sat down in the theater.
The film opens with a series of train montages. The audience is introduced to Rachel (Emily Blunt), a woman longing for something she once had; something just out of her reach. As Rachel rides the Metro North train every day in and out of New York City, she sits in the same train car, in the same seat, observing a woman with a seemingly perfect life. However, as the cliche continually reinforces, things usually aren’t always as they appear. We soon meet Megan (Hayley Bennett), the woman whose life Rachel yearns for, and we realize things aren’t exactly picturesque in her world either. Instead of the adored married woman that Rachel sees, she’s a bored housewife who is not quite ready to settle down. She spends her time manipulating everyone around her, just for entertainment.
Rachel isn’t exactly an “original” character herself; a raging alcoholic barely able to stand upright; she seems desperate to get herself back into her ex-husband’s good graces. And yet, Blunt deserves praise here for truly committing to Rachel as a multidimensional person. Stripped of her typical stunning glow, Blunt becomes Rachel. Not only does she act drunk, but she’s also dedicated herself to the look as well. Her skin is ashen, and her lips are crusted over as she sips vodka straight from a water bottle. She’s a hot mess and a masochist for punishment, often returning to her old house where Tom lives with his new family. Her believability makes you want to root for her despite not knowing what she’s actually capable of.
Just when I thought The Girl On the Train would be relegated to that same category as the erotic thrillers of a past time, the narrative zigzagged in an entirely different direction. As I began to grapple with how Megan and Rachel’s lives would intersect, the story introduces another woman, Anna (Rebecca Ferguson). Anna is even more intrinsically connected to Rachel since she’s married to Rachel’s ex-husband, Tom. These women all revolve around one another, until one day, Megan turns up missing, forcing their worlds to collide violently.
Using flashbacks and fragments of Rachel’s memory, the film slides back and forth in time as both Rachel and the audience try to figure if and how Rachel might be involved in Megan’s disappearance. The film is baffling at times, none of these women are likable (which oddly I enjoyed), and the film’s editing and transitions are a bit out of sorts. However, despite all of its various moving parts and storylines, director Tate Taylor reigns it in during the final act, refocusing the audience just when they are on the cusp of drifting off entirely.
Helmed by a sensational Emily Blunt and backed up with a stellar supporting cast, The Girl On The Train is an often grim and but enthralling film with elements reminiscent of the best elements ‘90s erotic thrillers. Its overt gender stereotypes were at first off-putting, but as you dive deeper into the story, just as Rachel learned, something is lurking below the surface. It’s no Gone Girl, but it’s not half bad either.
The Girl On the Train premieres in theaters Friday, October 7th.