Certain types of films seem to grow in different eras. The fact that many of those films originated as books, written in those time frames will explain some of that congregation. I believe the culture influences much of those trends. In the 1980s, with the U.S. resurgent in world affairs under a new Presidential administration, action heroes flourished and Stallone and Schwarzenegger were the big stars. In the 1990s, as HIV and AIDS were frightening Americans, we got sexual thrillers starring the likes of Michael Douglas and Ashley Judd. Murder mysteries have always been a staple of theaters so it is no surprise that they continue to draw in audiences, but the tone has changed. No longer are women stalked by strangers and voyeurs, they are active participants in the crimes. Not simply as victims or femme fatales but as curious witnesses or antagonists with non-sexual agendas. The complexity of modern thrillers is in the psychology of the women involved in the crimes. Forget “Silence of the Lambs” gothic horror trappings, the modern American nightmare is suburbia. The big cities prowled by Sharon Stone have become bedroom communities haunted by wounded women.
“The Girl on the Train” deserves some obvious comparisons to “Gone Girl” from two years ago. Both films are set primarily in quiet neighborhoods where soccer moms are raising their children in lavish surroundings. There is comfort, space, and a family unit that is supposed to provide support. Yet when those spaces are violated and the support disappears, there are some ugly truths under the surface. Three women are tied together in a mystery. All of them are victims of some sort, the question is whether they can find the strength to discover the truth. Emily Blunt is Rachel, a psychologically unbalanced woman who has sought solace in her inability to conceive by drowning herself in alcohol. The inebriation allows her to indulge in elaborate fantasies concern a couple she sees every day from the train that she takes to the city. The couple live in the neighborhood she used to be a part of. Just a few doors down from where her ex-husband and his new wife and baby now live. While her intoxication may fuel her imagination, it also blanks out her memory and the complex relationship between her imagination and reality is tangled.
Very much like Rosamund Pike dominated “Gone Girl”, Blunt is the main force in the film. The big difference is that in “Gone Girl” we are waiting to see what will happen, in this film, we are trying to discover what did happen. Our sympathies for Rachel will rise and fall as memories flood back into her head. Memory is a tricky master however and the damaged Rachel is challenged to interpret the events of her own life from a alcoholic haze. Anna, the woman who has replaced her in real life, is an indifferent and needy woman, who loves being a mother but is not really strong enough to be one on her own. Megan is the young married neighbor who serves as Nanny in Anna’s house. While there are three male characters that serve as suspects, red herrings and psychological motivation, the story is really about the lives of the three women. Rebecca Ferguson, so great in Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation, does not get as much to do as she should, playing the former mistress and new wife to Rachel’s ex.
Blunt however, has a meaty role that she pulls off without the ferocity of Rosamund Pike but with equal skill. She is a lost soul finding meaning in empty bottles, but she forces her way back into a real life in a particularly twisted narrative. Haley Bennett is the Jennifer Lawrence look alike that nearly steals the movie. She is an unsatisfied women that we at first might dislike because of what seems to be her selfish nature. As the story unfold in flashbacks arranged in chronological order, we will change our perceptions of her as much as we do those of Rachel. Bennett was just in the Magnificent Seven Remake, and except for the last line of that movie she was quite credible there. In this film she is completely convincing as the sexual plaything of oppressive men. She has a juicy scene with the therapist she comes to for comfort by bearing to him an unbearable secret. Both Blunt and Bennett could be contenders for awards consideration if the movie is accepted for it’s emotional script rather than the lurid nature of the plot.
You have to pay close attention to the time sequence and a large number of characters. It would be easy to get lost in the events if you stepped out to go to the bathroom for a couple of minutes. Allison Janey plays a no nonsense police detective investigating the disappearance of one of the characters. She is usually used to lighten the tone of a film but not in this case. She is brutal in the honesty with which she confronts Rachel with the truths that she sees. Despite being insightful, her character is not going to be the one who solves the mystery. There is a lot of intrigue but not much action in the film. Those places where violence occurs are infrequent but startling. The downward spiral that Rachel falls into is depressing as heck and when all is said and done, although things look up, they don’t look up much. Don’t expect a vicarious sense of relief at the outcome, but consider how much your sense of self can hurt not just you but everyone you love.