What starts off feeling like a mobile version of “Rear Window” quickly drops into sheer madness that manifests itself both in the characters and near-ridiculous plot.
Every day Rachel (Emily Blunt) rides the commuter train into the city and back. As her opening voiceover informs us, she sits in a specific car, on a specific side, because it affords her the best view of a particular house. In this house lives a woman she knows only through her voyeurism. Rachel’s imagination and emotional damage craft this other woman and her husband into the personification of the perfect, romantic marriage. At the end of Rachel’s engrossing narrative, she casually drops a surprising piece of information. She used to live in the house two doors down, and intimately knows the occupants.
A six-month flashback puts us in the presence of the woman Rachel idolizes. Her name is Megan (Haley Bennett), a mortally wounded free spirit who is caught within a possibly abusive marriage. A past therapist has called her a “master of reinvention” as Megan has inhabited many roles in her young life. Brief glimpses into her daily routine show her being equally envied and despised by others. Megan is seeing a new therapist now, Dr. Kamal Abdic (Edgar Ramírez), and we are unsure of her intentions. Abdic can see her blatant flirting but what is her endgame? She tells stories of her husband Scott’s (Luke Evans) controlling and abusive nature that may or may not be true. She also tests the waters with hints of suicide or running away. The biggest issue revolves around Scott’s desire for a family. The last thing Megan wants is a baby, but she resentfully agrees to a job as a nanny helping the woman two houses down…
Finally, we meet Anna (Rebecca Ferguson), her baby, and devoted husband, Tom (Justin Theroux). This is the couple that now lives in the house Rachel once did, and this is also the couple that Megan works for. On the surface, it’s Tom and Anna that appear to have the personification of the perfect marriage. All the stereotypes are present: They’re both good looking, she’s a stay-at-home mom, he has an apparently lucrative job, they have the cutest baby you’ve ever seen, and he even randomly brings home flowers after work. Of course, if everything was this perfect, there wouldn’t be much need for them in the story. It doesn’t take long before the plot further pulls back the covers and increasing amounts of their dirty laundry is exposed.
Without spoiling any of the films little surprises, Rachel is a raging alcoholic and still insanely fixated on her ex. Besides riding the train every day, blacking out is a regular part of her routine. Megan self-medicates with sex and seems anxious to either escape or destroy her marriage. And Anna, well, Anna is incredibly dull.
“The Girl on the Train” starts off great, and it’s easy to see the similarities to “Gone Girl” with which it is incessantly being compared. The hazy reflection between the three main characters is compelling, as they are each essentially the same woman but whose lives are very different due to chance and circumstance. Another highlight of the film are the performances, particularly that of Emily Blunt. While Blunt’s drunken stare and swagger seem a touch over the top at times, she expertly conveys the sorrow and borderline madness her character struggles with. We feel compassion for her, even when she is in the midst of making another foolish mistake. The biggest problem with the film is the story itself. By the beginning of the third act, our suspension of disbelief has been stretched well beyond the breaking point, and the film starts to feel more like a farce than thriller. The story in “Gone Girl” was also very extreme, but the characters were (mostly) intelligent and the lead woman was a brilliant sociopath. That movie took the time to walk us through a progression of decisions the key characters made that worked within the dark logic of the story. Here, characters operate on a wildly fluctuating intelligence and personality range. While we could chalk some of these plot points up to emotional distress or alcoholism, most are just far too jarring. The “why’s” begin to stack upon themselves at an exponential rate in the final 30 minutes, and we find ourselves counting the various things that would have quickly ended the entire story. Why not a restraining order? Why did one character keep a cell phone from another character for no reason at all? How did they even get that cellphone? How many scenes of unsuccessful “housewife hacking*” will we be subjected to. Why don’t these people have -any- friends? (No, Laura Prepon doesn’t count.) And is that corkscrew a heavy handed metaphor for the damaging effect that both alcoholism and “screwing” can have on a marriage?
This uber-polished Lifetime Channel feature will surely appeal to a particular audience, and it certainly has some great moments. If the plot did not require the cartoonish and suddenly extreme villainy of certain characters, and the extreme foolishness of others, it could have a truly compelling thriller.
*”Housewife Hacking” refers to a person/woman trying to random guess the password on their significant other’s digital device, often with a glass of wine in one hand.