If we were allowed one word reviews for The Girl on the Train that one would suffice. “Egregious” might serve, but that seems too literary or pretentious. No, awful with do, for awful it did.
If one is forced to pinpoint just when the thing went off the rails it might be that first shot where a tragically misused Emily Blunt (a fine actress in a dreadful flick) marks an X on the misted-over window of her commuter train. There, mid-point of the mark, her eye is framed in focus with the rest diffused by the moisture, her gaze staring out at the houses that pass her by as narration intones that the life she covets is the one she lost due to her own foibles.
I found myself wondering about misted over train windows, thinking of the benefits of double glazing to prevent such distractions. This isn’t some school bus with a thin pane of safety glass, this is a modern, diesel-powered monster plowing from its Manhattan berth on its ribbons of iron, snaking its way through the suburban landscape and past houses where apparently people go to their back porches to make out for the entertainment of the commuters.
Naturally letting the mind wander to the benefits of modern glazing in transportation vehicles was far more satisfying than trying to make sense of this garbled mess of a narrative, notwithstanding the fact that in no other shot were the train windows misted over. I guess I was meant to instead focus on this drunken mess of a woman who finds herself wrapped up in the disappearance of a former neighbour, her boorish husband, a new wife and a child, all tied together in a convenient (read: preposterous) package framed by the proscenium of that very un-misted train window.
Director Tate Taylor’s last film was the James Brown biopic Get on Up that at least had a good 10 minutes before it turned to shit, and his flick The Help wasn’t completely awful. But with The Girl on the Train he’s made a mildly convoluted story almost unintelligible, with little help it seems from Erin Cressida Wilson’s adaptation of Paula Hawkin’s unlikely bestseller. Flashbacks are peppered with almost random frequency, meant to create a sense of mystery but resulting instead in an unsettling mix of frustration and boredom.
Haley Bennett and Rebecca Ferguson are for narrative reasons supposed to look alike, but I’m convinced midway through the film they just decided to no longer bother trying to make them separate, using poorly framed shots to conflate the two for reasons that clearly telegraph the ending. Meanwhile, the boorish boys are no help, with Luke Evans, Justin Theroux and Édgar Ramírez playing with telenovela levels of subtlety. Only Allison Janey shows up with a modicum of skepticism and wit, inhabiting her small role as the cop with a semblance of dexterity.
For those that want a tale of love, revenge, betrayal and double-crossing let me point you to decades of superior noir flicks, or even the recent Gone Girl to scratch that itch. Sure, Fincher’s adaptation of another pulpy bestseller had its own issues, but it’s a masterpiece of tone and precision compared to this sordid mess.
I presume the only way to get through The Girl On The Train is to be blackout drunk, convinced during a state of intoxication that what you’re watching is in fact good. For the sober minded it’s a unintended disaster movie, one that ravages one’s intelligence and wastes their time like few other films.