‘The thriller that shocked the world’ has arrived as, The Girl on the Train, Tate Taylor’s (The Help, Get on Up) adaptation of the Paula Hawkins’ novel opens this Friday. While a catchy invitation to head down to the local cineplex, the tagline also alludes to the mass popularity of its source material. Now, my basis for using such a phrase as ‘mass popularity’ doesn’t stem from any hard facts but rather a brief moment before my viewing of this film. Prior to giving the signal to start rolling the reels, or rather today’s sad equivalent of pressing play on the windows computer wired to the projector, the m.c. hosting the screening took a quick poll of the audience to see who had previously read Hawkins’ book. When over a third of a packed house eagerly raised an arm in the air, I, with both hands resting upon my lap, was quite surprised by this number, having little knowledge about the novel myself. Were these stretched out individuals long time fans of the book finally appeased after eagerly awaited a screen telling or simply curious parties that decided to do their homework beforehand. I cannot say. What I will say, however, is that after experiencing this adaptation it certainly feels as though the film was made for the former.
There is a good story in The Girl on the Train, unfortunately it didn’t quite make it to the screen. The film seems like an instance where filmmakers stayed too true to too much of the source material. Again, I cannot speak to what the film specifically takes from the novel and what it adds, but the multiple character arcs that weave through the constantly shifting timelines, that seemingly would have worked in the 395 page novel, are just too much for a 112 runtime. Promising set ups are not given adequate time to develop while certain sections do little more than break up flow and tension.
The film opens, in what many would deem a cardinal sin of telling and not showing, with an extended section of narration delivered by Rachel (Emily Blunt) as she shovels on the exposition. Here we learn about her infatuation with Megan (Haley Bennett), the girl whom she watches from the train everyday. It is later revealed that Megan and her husband Scott (Luke Evans) live down the road from Rachels’ ex-husband Tom (Justin Theroux) and his wife Anna (Rebecca Furgison). These five, as well as Megan’s psychiatrist Dr. Kamal (Edgar Ramirez), become the central players in the mystery that ensues when Megan goes missing after being followed by Rachel, a raging alcoholic, who wakes up the following morning covered in blood.
In an attempt to either solve the mystery or pursue her strange fascination, Rachel becomes involved with many of the other key figures. Each connection is presented as an avenue where Rachel must, not only strive to uncover the truth surrounding Megan’s disappearance, but deal with her own inner demons that have shaped her into the wreck she has become. All of these intriguing relationships begin quite promising but eventually fizzle as they are not afforded the proper time to be fully explored, or are simply abandoned. This is mostly the consequence of the film’s continuous jumping back and forth between timelines, exploring Rachels’ exploits in the present and filling in Megans’s back-story in the past. Megan’s timeline plays out in the way flashbacks typically do within the genre. It is never made explicitly clear exactly what these insights are leading up to until the climactic moment. However, rather than culminating in a shocking revelation, in retrospect, seem almost unnecessary. I find myself wondering if the film might not have been better suited by excluding most of Anna’s back-story, in order to free up some of the runtime to further spend with Blunts portrayal of the sometime sympathetic, sometime deplorable but always intriguing Rachel.
Understandably this sort of process is a double-edged sword. Veer too far from the source material and face the wrath of perturbed fans of the original claiming you’ve lost touch with the work. Stay too true and, sometimes, lose sight of the fact that what might work in one medium will not necessarily work in another. Though, at the end of the day it should come down to crafting a film that works, even if that does mean putting some chapters to the axe to create some new content for others. Despite a few promising moments and another solid go round for Blunt, unfortunately, with The Girl on the Train this wasn’t quite the case.
Universal Pictures Canada releases The Girl on the Train on Friday, Oct 7, 2016