Divorced alcoholic Rachel (Emily Blunt) rides the train to New York every day and develops an unnatural obsession with a married couple in a house she travels past. But, when the wife disappears, she integrates herself into the investigation by posing as the missing woman’s friend.
Pop quiz, hotshot: what do High Fidelity, P.S. I Love You and The Secret Dreamworld Of A Shopaholic all have in common? The answer, of course, is those original novels were all set in the British Isles but the films relocated the action to the US. And you can now add The Girl On The Train to that list. So Instead of riding the train from fictional Buckinghamshire town of Ashbury into Euston, Rachel (Blunt) now travels from upstate New York into Manhattan.
Emily Blunt is a fine actress, but she's obviously miscast here.
Feelings towards such geographical recklessness can often be strong as fans of the original work rage against the perceived slight — the reaction to Hellblazer's LA relocation in Keanu Reeves' Constantine being particularly fierce. Here, however, it turns out to be one of the film's greatest strengths. Yes, the setting by a lake is picturesque, but it's actually the houses — large and in typically spacious US plots of land — which really sell that Rachel would be able to focus on one building long enough to fabricate her make-believe relationship with its inhabitants. Compare and contrast with the tightly grouped housing stock typically seen from a London Midland commuter train.
A typical thriller in its set-up, the film also has the added depths of Rachel's alcoholism (and the misery that can bring) to tackle, which director Tate Taylor does with unflinching honesty. Although her blackouts are also used as a plot device, there to serve the mystery by positioning her as an unreliable narrator. Still, it's the thriller aspect that most lets the film down, failing to truly engage or offer enough plausible red herrings to send your mind whirring through different theories as to what could have happened. The twists rarely, if ever, have the impact that were intended.
At the centre of this is Emily Blunt, who despite the recognisable cast around her, is rarely off screen. She’s a fine actress, but obviously miscast here. It’s not her fault particularly — she simply fails to adequately escape her star power to believably portray such a damaged character.
Too often successful page-turners stumble as they’re adapted for the big screen, Before I Go To Sleep being a recent example. The Girl On The Train fails to reverse that trend.
It’s not unimportant, but when location scouting is the most striking aspect of a film, something’s awry. And sadly this mystery fails to intrigue.