Three women. One neighborhood. A murder. Rachel Watson (Emily Blunt) takes the daily train on the way home back from Manhattan and develops a curious hobby, which is that of stalking the residents of the homes she passes by from the train window. One girl never fails to catch her attention, the young and perfect wife Megan Hipwell (Haley Bennett) who lives at #15 Beckett Street. Two houses down the block at #13 is where her ex-husband Tom (Justin Theroux) resides. She used to live there too, but her place as his wife has since been taken by his one-time mistress turned current Mrs. Watson, Anna (Rebecca Ferguson), who was their realtor. As the train traverses its normal route one afternoon, Rachel witnesses something that shatters her veneration of the perfect suburban couple, seeing Megan get intimate with another man on her balcony. Fueled by inexplicable rage, she gets off at that stop and stalks Mrs. Hipwell before blacking out. Perpetually drunk and disoriented, she couldn’t recall anything about that afternoon. When the object of her obsession turns up dead a few days later, she becomes one of the suspects for the homicide. Was she responsible for the crime?
Why don’t you just get off that train and stalk them all up close? Why make your voyeuristic existence unnecessarily complicated? Joke! Bad idea. Oh, shit. Bitch got off the train! Bitch got off the train for real! NO! COME BACK! Stay! FUCK. Oh no. NO! NO! NO! DAMN IT. Get back on the train, Biaaaatch! THIS IS ALL MY FAULT. Oops, I digress. I was just trying to share my train of thought at one point in the movie. See what I did there? The Girl on the Train is exciting because it’s a psychological thriller. There is more watching her watching people than actual action, but sometimes a deranged mind is enough to tickle one’s fancy. Perhaps it’s also due to that lack of action that you get to look forward to the intense scenes, making them effective in giving you a jolt.
It’s never boring to witness a narrative unfolding from the perspective of an unreliable narrator. There is always room for speculations because we know that this character just cannot be trusted. In the case of Rachel, her constantly inebriated state and consequent blackouts conceals a lot not just about her personality, but also her viewpoint of the world around her. Is her reality real or nothing more than figments of her drunk imagination? Given this setback, the moviegoer must then rely on other sources of information in search for the truth. For this film, that means paying attention to the other characters and getting the chance to play detective for two hours, in a fun attempt to pin the crime on someone else.
While most critics have pointed out how the movie delves into the domains of melodrama and how that seems to have annoyed them so much, credit must be given where it’s due. Most films tackling the theme of obsession mostly fail by focusing too much on the person obsessing and dismissing the object as the perfect human being that he or she simply isn’t. In a way, shedding light on Megan’s melodrama through flashbacks helps establish that this woman is not the flawless young trophy wife every other jealous middle-aged housewife in Suburbia believes her to be.
In this case, the indirect relationship between the doer and the receiver of the obsession is dissected. It’s cathartic, because most people have been through this at one point in their lives, feeling unexplainably drawn to a certain individual not for reasons sexual or emotional in nature, but rather existential. You just want TO BE this person, based on the mere 10% of his or her life available for public consumption that you see every day. Admit it, you’ve had such an episode, although the intensity usually varies for every individual. The Girl on the Train just happens to be on the rather extreme side of the spectrum.
Acting-wise, Blunt totally owns this film. To many who began to know her in The Devil Wears Prada, she will always be the posh and deliciously sarcastic Emily, which is why it is such a welcome breath of fresh air seeing her so disheveled and on the edge. The camerawork further strengthens the performance by mimicking her damaged psyche through shaky movements and close-up shots that are simply too close for comfort. This could have been a good vehicle for her to go the Rosamund Pike path post-Gone Girl and get acting nominations left and right. Unfortunately, the movie’s rather lackluster performance and negative reviews have obviously affected her chances. But we are still thankful, Emily Blunt. We love you just the same. Your time will come.