The erotic thriller has been dead at the movies for some time. In the 1980’s Sharon Stone and Michael Douglas seemed to have the genre on lock, steaming up the screen every other year. The genre was very popular but ultimately gave way to the blockbuster and gangster movie explosion of the 90’s. Lately the genre has been attempting a small comeback. In 2014 David Fincher gave us Gone Girl – based on the obscenely popular book by Gillian Flynn. Fincher used Flynn’s prose to play with the classic “psycho bitch” trope, layering a tale of domestic abuse with plenty of gallows humor. It was gloriously trashy and with Fincher at the helm, one of the best films of the year.
Fifty Shades of Grey exists too and while I guess it could be considered a thriller – I think it’s mostly because ushers were surprised audiences made it all the way through. Now we have The Girl on the Train – based on yet another best seller by Paula Hawkins. The film has stripped away the books London setting for an empire state of mind but retains the basic framework.
Emily Blunt is Rachel, a recently-divorced alcoholic with a pension for doodling. Every morning she takes the train to Manhattan directly by the house she used to reside in with her husband Tom (Justin Theroux.) Tom has remarried (to the radiant Rebecca Ferguson,) recently become a father and based on Rachel’s lurid glances from the tracks really likes to rub that in near the bay windows.
As the film opens Rachel proclaims, “My husband says I have an over-active imagination.” That’s an understatement as she begins to project an angelic life on the couple living next door to her ex. Megan (Haley Bennett) and Scott (Luke Evans) are a stunning twosome who – from the train – seem to have the perfect relationship. They build fires in the evening, have steamy sex in the window seemingly every night and embrace shirtless on the balcony in the morning.
Alas, not all is well behind the curtain. Megan is an emotional wreck, trapped in a life she never wanted with a man she never imagined marrying. Her shrink, Dr. Abdic (Edgar Ramirez,) is her one refuge. She confides in him, hits on him, and even as he denies her advances she ultimately trusts him.
One evening after Rachel thinks she witnesses Megan having an affair she gets annihilated after work and stumbles off the train to confront her. After stumbling through the woods and yelling, “whore!” at a blurry runner, Rachel wakes up in her bed covered in blood and bruises, not knowing how she got there. A few days later it’s discovered, Megan is dead.
On the surface, The Girl on the Train possesses all the traits of a classic erotic thriller. The cast all look like they were pulled from the first 50 pages of Vanity Fair, there is plenty of naked flesh and a mysterious murder. The chief problem is Director Tate Taylor has no flare and absolutely zero tact. He just presents this mystery in the most straightforward, dull way possible. It’s not even sexy and oh, how desperately it wants to be! Sure, Luke Evans and Justin Theroux are ridiculously handsome while Emily Blunt, Haley Bennett and Rebecca Ferguson couldn’t walk 10-feet without turning heads but no one has any chemistry. They just sort of stand there and occasionally turn toward each other with a suspicious glare.
And maybe the biggest mistake Taylor makes is giving this world no depth. His mystery is so mind-numbingly obvious because there are only 5 people in the film. It doesn’t take Sherlock fucking Holmes to connect the dots of this brain buster.
It’s all the more depressing because he wastes the monumental effort of his star Emily Blunt. As Rachel, Blunt is fully invested and gives one of the best performances of her career. Even while surrounded by pretty wax figures she’s able to convey a crushing depression that stings as she falls further and further from reality.
Without Blunt The Girl on the Train would’ve been a full scale disaster, with her it’s merely glossy trash. Tate clearly wanted to channel Fincher’s near masterpiece and give us this year’s psycho bitch classic. Instead he gave us a spilled martini on a high fashion magazine cover.