The Girl on the Train
Directed by: Tate Taylor
Starring: Emily Blunt, Haley Bennett, Rebecca Ferguson
Rated R for violence, sexual content, language and nudity
1 hr. 52 mins.
Let’s be clear about what’s happening in The Girl on the Train.
You’re being toyed with from start to finish. Timelines. Characters. It’s all quite complicated, which is to say that nothing in this story is as it first appears. You can’t even trust the camera shots. It’s all part of the strategy that director Tate Taylor (The Help) uses to throw you off; and depending on how you like your murder served up, the atmosphere in this film is pretty dour in its approach. You might even say it has a bit of Hitchcock in its sorcery, though without the master’s usual black humor.
Rachel (Emily Blunt) is an alcoholic divorcee who rides the daily commuter train into downtown Manhattan. Her ex-husband, Tom (Justin Theroux), has remarried Anna (Rebecca Ferguson) and they now have a beautiful baby daughter. Rachel mourns the loss of Tom and is stalking her ex, to the point of walking into the house and potentially kidnapping the couple’s newborn child.
As Rachel rides by her old neighborhood every day, she notices another handsome young couple, Scott and Megan (Luke Evans and Haley Bennett), who seem to have the perfect life together. They kiss in the morning, make love through a curtainless window, and sit together by a fire at night. Rachel, obsessed with their perceived happiness, sketches their life on paper and makes up a story about them.
Then Rachel sees Megan in the arms of another man. She is so enraged by this betrayal that one day, she gets off the train, follows Megan into a tunnel, and begins yelling at her. When she wakes up the following day, she finds herself battered and bloody. The news reports that Megan is missing. What happened in the tunnel? And who ultimately is responsible for Megan’s disappearance?
What follows is a complicated connection between Rachel, Anna and Megan that slowly unravels and fills in the blanks. At the center of it all is Rachel’s alcoholic memories and whether she can trust what she thinks she saw, compared to the scant bit of evidence she knows.
It takes some skill to pull this off without leaving the audience in the dark too long. It’s like watching a magician at work. There’s the illusion and there’s the trick, and then there’s whatever lies between that pushes you to believe one way or the other. For the most part, it all rolls along like a giant jigsaw puzzle, coming together piece by piece. And then there’s the ending.
If you’re going to toy with the audience, take it to the finish line. Give us a Body Heat kind of sendoff. I expected that final punch, the pièce de résistance that would have given a very twisting movie the surprise ending it deserved. Yes, it has its surprises, but THE surprise?
Alas, Hitchcock must be shaking his head, given that he was the author of one of the best mystery finishes of all time in Notorious. Haven’t seen it? Go rent it. Now there’s an ending.
Am I being too hard on this film? Probably, but one can only wish. I for one wanted something that would have complemented the film’s dark atmosphere up to the very last frame. A deal with the devil. A moment when Rachel wakes up and finds that even the story she believes has been a set-up.
Too much for you? Well, don’t blame me. The director started this thing. He created the atmosphere and the fear that went with it. He planted these seeds of doubt and kept me guessing. I just wanted him to finish it off in a worthy manner. I can’t help but feel that Hitchcock would have carved Rachel up, then smiled. “Here’s your ending,” he would have offered in a proper British accent, a waiter in a restaurant holding a head on a platter.