Is it auteurism to bring the monotonous qualities of the character’s life into the overall film?
If so, then Tate Taylor may be the next great auteur director because there can’t be something as boring and lifelessly directed as The Girl on the Train, the film based on the best-selling novel by Paula Hawkins.
To fill the critics quota, I will mention Gone Girl at the beginning because it was what I thought most about during the entirety of The Girl on the Train. It wasn’t an out-of-left field move to immediately go to the David Fincher directed film, which feels like an older sister to the recent release. They both contain similar suburban mysteries centered around mentally questionable female leads that attempt to twist us like a carnival ride in order to exert a reaction.
There is a glaring difference though — Gone Girl is a good movie.
The Girl on the Train follows Rachel (Emily Blunt), a recently divorced drunk who spends her time riding the train from the country into New York City. On the ride, she passes the house of her ex-husband, Tom (Justin Theroux), and his new wife, Anna (Rebecca Ferguson), as well as a younger couple, Megan (Haley Bennett) and Scott (Luke Evans). One morning, Rachel notices Megan kissing another man and later that night in a drunken stupor, confronts her in a tunnel before being hit and waking up in bed with blood stains on her clothes.
The movie gifts us with an unreliable narrator, but also goes overboard and allows Megan and Anna to also speak up and tell us what is happening in each of their lives. If The Girl on the Train has one sin, it is treating us — the audience — as people as forgetful as a drunken Rachel.
I’m sure the voice overs worked masterfully for the novel — a medium that requires more deeper explanation through words — but for a visual one like movies, it comes across as insulting. Returning to this and Gone Girl, the major wedge between them is that the latter was actually directed.
Gone Girl features similar transitions into various voice over narrators, but Fincher also directs the film with a ominous comfort that makes it both relatable but haunting. He treats the cut-and-dry suburban life as a hellish jungle filled with passive-aggressive and hollow predators looking to pounce and kill at any chance.
In The Girl on the Train, there is never that unnerving awareness that makes us fear what is out of our sight. The mystery is curious, and for the most part, the discovery of new leads is engaging but it all feels so orchestrated. Taylor directs the film like he watched a lot of Hitchcock movies and wants to do his best impression. Too bad he forgets the subtle eroticism and lack of clarity that made for the famed director’s most haunting moments.
Hitchcock would use edits and the camera to force the audience to reckon with whatever dark force was at the forefront of the film, and Taylor never asks us to do that. We are force-fed the key points and the most shocking revelations are handed to us with a twist and a jerk rather than a slow and all-consuming elevation.
I can see why people became so attracted to the book because the plot is wonderful and under better circumstances, it would have worked flawlessly. The movie is saved by Blunt’s performance as Rachel as she plays the character with such broken confidence and misplaced sentimentality that it evokes some sort of organic reaction from us as we watch her spiral into despair throughout the course of the story.
But again, Taylor takes some of that away from us as he decides to direct Rachel’s “breakdown” scenes with a close-up on Blunt’s face so we can see each wrinkle and blood-shot eye in order to realize she isn’t fully comprehensive in the scene. This is less the wrong choice, but one that just doesn’t feel inspired and is a reason some have pegged this as a more dressed up Lifetime movie.
The Girl on the Train has everything to be the next great thriller, but wallows in mediocrity too long to feel like something memorable. Emily Blunt does everything she can to reconcile the tired directing, but it becomes too little and too late.