Psychological thrillers are becoming increasingly ubiquitous, both in fiction and film. It is hardly surprising then, that after the literary success of The Girl on the Train, that a film adaptation quickly made its way to screen.
Emily Blunt stars as Rachel, an alcoholic whose dependency has resulted in increasing isolation. Travelling into the city each day under the pretence of attending work, she finds herself entranced by a young couple and their romantic interactions. For Rachel, this couple represents everything that she and her ex-husband could have been before the pain of infertility and his indulgence in extramarital affairs became too much. The proximity of this couple to her previous home, which is now inhabited by her ex-husband and his previous mistress, makes this illusion even more difficult and tangible.
The book, using names as chapter headings, is told from the first person perspective of three women. Rachel, Megan (part of the young couple who Rachel fantasises about) and Anna, Rachel’s ex-husband’s current wife. The film takes a similar, and rather lazy approach, using title cards to show which character we are currently viewing. Rather than relying on film visuals, the film chooses to heavily invest in character voice over, meaning that often, the film feels rather more like an audio book.
Thus, along with Rachel, we are privy to the inner thoughts of Megan, who is battling with a past incident and struggling with her current relationship. The contrast of Rachel’s fairy-tale version of Megan’s relationship, as viewed from the train, with the reality as told by Megan, is a nice touch, dispelling with the mythology that so often surround relationships. Yet, even when supposedly becoming intimately acquainted with Megan, hearing her express her fears and desires, we never get to truly know her as a character in her own right.
Megan becomes a fantasy figure, projected by both Rachel and Megan herself. Megan, in struggling with her own identity, constantly conjures a hypersexualised version of herself, yet this image is never really brought into relief. As a result, we never truly care about her character. This means that her disappearance, an event that apparently provides Rachel with a new purpose and obsession, feels inconsequential. Similarly, Anna’s story, which largely charts her domestic drudgery, is far from involving.
The film is hugely flawed, both in terms of its adaptive process, and its characterisation. The speed of the adaptation and subsequent production is telling, and immediately mars the transition from page to screen. The overreliance on voiceover merely demonstrates the inability to take risks by deviating from the source text in any form. It is understandable, if questionable, that an adaptation for a hugely successful book would attempt to directly render it onscreen, but in doing so, the adaptation becomes superfluous.
It would have been far more interesting to see the motivations of the characters depicted through visual means, rather than being explicitly told. Such an approach highlights a perceived lack of intelligence on the part of the audience, as if without being directly told how a character feels, we would not be able to understand.
The depiction of women too, is rather problematic. While it is certainly refreshing to see a film feature three lead women, it is only worthy of praise when these women are complex and fully formed characters. Each female character, despite their apparent individuality, are all motivated by similar aims and obsessions. Furthermore, each female character seem to hate other women. Rachel, rather than feeling anger towards her ex-husband for his affair, projects her rage towards Anna. Megan, in declining to start a family with her husband, is depicted as unfeeling and unempathetic. Her sexuality, rather than feeling empowering, is shown to be manipulative and dangerous.
The pacing is off, meaning that any tension that existed in the novel is lacking in its visual counterpart. As a result the film, in failing to involve and engage through its characters, as well as requiring some major editing to its overlong two hour running time, is simply dull. The tone is strangely pitched; taking itself far too seriously. Certainly the cast do their best, but the end result is a B-movie without any schlocky enjoyment.