The Girl on the Train

Scott Wallace
5th Oct 2016

Every person who has taken a commuter train at some point in their life has wondered what is going on in the houses that they pass by as part of their daily routine. The Girl on the Train, based on Paula Hawkins' best-selling novel of the same name, draws on that distant curiosity and runs with it, crafting a scintillating and absorbing mystery story.

Rachel (Emily Blunt), who at first seems a normal commuter like any other heading to New York, is fascinated by a woman she sees every day on the deck of her luxurious white house. The woman is Megan Hipwell (Haley Bennett), a troubled young woman leading a life that, to Rachel, looks perfect. When an apparent tragedy occurs, Rachel's borderline obsession leads to her being entangled in Megan's complex tale, along Rachel's ex-husband Tom (Justin Theroux) and new wife Anna (Rebecca Ferguson), with whom he has a young daughter.

Though the first act of The Girl on the Train is hobbled somewhat by an over-reliance on voiceover that attempts to compress a large amount of information into only a relatively tiny part of the film, once the characters are established the central mystery takes hold. Coupled with the compelling, slowly unravelling story, the film creates a very effective sense of dread built off of the way it explores the horrors of supposedly mundane suburban life - domestic abuse, crippling ennui, infidelity, alcoholism.

At the centre of The Girl on the Train is an incredible, highly sympathetic performance by Emily Blunt. The unimaginable sadness she suffers is portrayed through her wide eyes and downturned mouth, and despite frequent tears, she never comes across as distractingly weepy. Unfortunately, though, the film has a tendency to lean on stylised cuts and camera effects rather than letting the actors perform. In the case of Emily Blunt, it's not a complete disaster, but other actors are undercut by the self-conscious stylings of the film.

Where the film's stylishness does work, though, is in its atmosphere and tension. Danny Elfman's score, which with its glistening melodic contours seems to glide on rails like the titular locomotive, assists greatly in creating a sort of contemporary noir atmosphere, bubbling with the threat of violence and emotional hurt. And that violence, unlike many films of a similar ilk, never feels gratuitous or meaningless. In The Girl on the Train, death actually means something.

It's far from perfect, but The Girl on the Train is smarter than it may outwardly appear, and a well-structured, mostly well-paced and engrossing narrative. There are far worse ways to spend two hours, and while it may not be wholly satisfying in the end, it's still a small breath of fresh air among the glut of repetitive ultra-macho thrillers that tend to populate the screen.

The Girl on the Train opens in Australian cinemas on Thursday October 6th.