When asked what he believed in, Woody Allen once replied “sex and death—two things that come once in my lifetime.” “The Girl on the Train” shares a similar belief system—sans punchline—as it is a Freudian whodunit, in which characters are defined entirely on who they’re having sex with, who they’ve killed, who they’ve considered killing and who they’ve considered having sex with.
The film bounces between the perspectives of three different women. There’s Rachel (Emily Blunt), an unemployed boozer who rides a train for the sights rather than the destination. But she cares not for mountainous vistas or sprawling ranges of unfettered animal life—no, her attention is grabbed by a row of houses and the domestic bliss magically captured inside. Anna (Rebecca Ferguson) lives in one of those houses with her husband, Tom, who recently held that title with Rachel. The two have a child and are seemingly happy, except when Rachel breaks into their home and borrows their baby—oh, Rachel. Living next to Anna and Tom is the living centerfold, Megan (Haley Bennett), and her husband, Scott (Luke Evans). This is where it gets gossipy. Tom loves Anna, but Rachel still loves Tom. Megan loves Scott, but might be sleeping with her exotic therapist. Some people say Scott is in love with Rachel, but he denies it. In a stunning move, the film is without eye patches and secret twins.
The film is like a magician who comes out on stage, introduces himself as “Steve the Magnificent” and promises a night of tricks and intrigue. He waves his hands around, does a few spins, tosses his hat and then reveals that his name isn’t really Steve. That’s the kind of empty sleight-of-hand this film is dishing out. With its various points of view and time jumping mechanics, the film is deliberately disorienting—fooling the audience into believing that something is happening, when it’s really just a game of he said/she said.
And the aforementioned “hes” and “shes” are dime-store archetypes, elevated slightly by gifted actors—particularly Ferguson, who gets the least amount of attention but makes the most of it. For every moment when an idea briefly manifests, there are long stretches of insufferable boredom. I suppose Megan’s numerous, lengthy visits to her therapist are supposed to offer some insight into her character and her actions—of which there aren’t many—yet they play like a wordy perfume ad.
If the marketing seems familiar, it’s because the film is riding that “Gone Girl” slipstream. But what that film understood is that the pay-off of a plot-twist isn’t enough to justify 110 minutes of poorly written drivel, especially when that plot-twist relies entirely on surprise and is without significance. Had a small door been spotted on the back of Emily Blunt’s head and, upon opening, it was revealed that two super-intelligent mice had been controlling her all along, it would achieve the same purpose as the existing twist: nothing.
I’ve seen “The Girl on the Train” labeled as a psychological thriller, but it is neither of those things. I would stamp “thoughtless bore” on its forehead.
2 out of 5 stars