If you thought David Fincher’s 2014 Gone Girl adaptation would’ve benefited from less humour and self-awareness, not to mention network TV-grade cinematography and direction, then The Girl on the Train just might be the film for you. Despite a solidly committed performance by Emily Blunt, this adaptation of Paula Hawkins’ 2015 hit novel is a shockingly generic erotic thriller that ultimately takes itself far too seriously.
Rachel Watson (Blunt) makes her daily commute to New York City while sucking down vodka and lamenting her divorce from her unfaithful husband, Tom (Justin Theroux). As the train leaves her sleepy town, she fantasises about the lives of her neighbours, specifically Scott and Megan Hipwell (Luke Evans and Haley Benett), a beautiful pair who Rachel deems “the perfect couple”. When Megan goes missing, however, an unpleasant spotlight is shone on Rachel’s personal life with potentially disastrous consequences.
While it would be unfair to continually compare the movie to Fincher’s deliciously sordid romp, it’s almost unavoidable given the two projects’ numerous commonalities, both being adapted from lurid, twisty hit novels and clearly skewing towards the same demographic.
On its own terms, then, it’s clear early on that there’s not much intent here to subvert the rather pat thriller formula, but instead cling over-eagerly to it while doubling down on the trashiness. The criminal investigation, the psychology, the sex and the inevitable reveals are all pure soap opera fodder throughout, and while poor Blunt tries her damnedest to elevate it – while there’s also solid work from rising star Bennett, Édgar Ramírez and Allison Janney – she can only do much as any actor can.
Aside from the messy, oddly formulaic script, it’s the direction that really works against Blunt and everything else good here. The Help’s Tate Taylor has little knack for dramatic staging and makes egregious overuse of an ugly low-framerate slow-motion effect that comes off as horribly amateur; if you’re not going to shoot said scenes at a higher frame-rate to accommodate the slowdown, don’t even bother with slow-mo. The excess of quick-cutting also gives the film a restless rather than an urgent feel, when a generally more deliberate approach could’ve bled the premise for maximum anxiety.
Though a few of the surprises just might catch you off-guard, on the whole there’s nothing particularly arresting here, and the specific way in which the biggest twist is unfurled makes it land without the desired impact. Again, it’s Taylor’s lack of verve compromising what, in more stylistically accomplished hands, could’ve punched well above its own weight, just as Gone Girl did.
The Girl on the Train is in UK cinemas now and US cinemas this Friday.