Stalking is Awesome: The Movie
Talk about premises that could go horribly wrong: your main protagonist is an alcoholic woman who has the uncomfortable habit of stalking her ex-husband’s family and that of a neighbor, but ends up getting involved with the disappearance of said neighbor when she digs too deep. And yet, against all odds, The Girl on the Train gives you an interesting sex thriller that doesn’t bore you to death (and no I will not stop picking on When the Bough Breaks). This film instead just cringes the shit out of you….and sometimes, that’s not a bad thing to experience.
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves, as we follow the lives of three New York women: Rachel (Emily Blunt), Megan (Haley Bennett), and Anna (Rebecca Ferguson). Rachel is an alcoholic experiencing frequent black outs and mostly spending her time on the train that passes by her former house so she can stalk her ex-husband, Tom (Justin Theroux), who cheated on Rachel with Anna, and now the two live married with their own daughter. While pining for the life she had, Rachel also peeks at the house next door to her ex-husband where Megan, a beautiful woman, is usually found having passionate sex with her own husband Scott (Luke Evans). Rachel begins to daydream an ideal life for Megan and Scott, until one day she catches Megan kissing another man (Édgar Ramírez). Furious (and quite plastered), Rachel leaves at the train stop closest to Megan and makes her way to her in a park only to blackout…and wake up hours later in her own bed with tons of cuts, bruises, and a bunch of blood. Did I mention Megan goes missing around this time as well?
So we spend the movie mostly following Emily Blunt’s Rachel as she tries to get over her wicked bad hangover and piece together what the hell happened that night. Blunt is acting pretty damn well in this as she portrays someone with a major dependency that is also wiping out good chunks of her memory. It takes a lot to sell the idea of confusion and disarray someone must be feeling when they’re black out drunk and not come across as pantomiming, a job that Blunt accomplishes pretty admirably. It’s even more difficult to make this character even the tiniest bit relatable so we’re not regretting spending the majority of the movie with her. But the movie manages to accomplish that by making her current situation appear to be of her own construction, and she readily admits how pitiful she is. But that’s of course in the beginning of the film, and then her character goes down an odd, but interesting turn.
Rachel proceeds to investigate Megan’s disappearance mostly to assuage her own guilt (for which she already has plenty for), but goes about it by presenting herself as one of Megan’s friends to her husband. This is where we get to know more about Luke Evans and we very quickly surmise he may be an abusive dickhead given how he constantly looks like he’s moments away from beating the shit out of everyone. Granted that may have been entirely because of the casting choice…I can’t imagine this dude as Gaston in the upcoming Beauty and the Beast remake unless they wanted to make the character less arrogant and more raging bastard. Still Evans does a great job here first appearing to be calm, but you start seeing the facade crumble quickly as he learns more of Megan’s infidelity with her therapist.
The therapist comes in the form of Édgar Ramírez, who we get to know primarily in flashbacks involving him and Megan. Bennett and Ramírez are great in these scenes because you can tell they’re moments away from boning each other silly, but Ramírez’s ethical obligations are putting up a wall…a wall that Megan couldn’t give a squirt of cum about because she needs sex constantly. I actually appreciated her need for sex doesn’t come from the filmmakers’ desire to get her naked (actually the sex scenes are pretty PG-13 for this supposedly R-rated thriller), but from dealing with some major trauma in her life. Trauma that is shown to us, rather than being told, so the film medium is used to great effect.
Having Rachel untangle all the lies Megan made before her disappearance makes for some quality viewing, but I can’t help but feel a bit of obvious misdirection in some scenes. She’s established that she is trying to figure out Megan’s disappearance to absolve herself of all guilt after vaguely remembering herself attacking Megan, but she can’t determine what she remembers was false or not. That in of itself is even more interesting, but to do that we get into the lives of Rachel’s ex-husband and his new wife as well, which starts making you wonder where this film is going.
The ex-husband incidentally is pretty good because of how he’s coming across as “a nice guy” despite the fact that he cheated on his wife, kicked her out, married and knocked up his mistress, and moved her and their baby into the house. I’ve heard that the former mistress, Anna, was considerably more unlikable in the original airport novel this movie is based off of, but the film opts to paint her with a bit more sympathy when it’s shown Rachel (during one of her drunk episodes) sneaked into the house, took Anna’s baby, and was hanging outside the home cradling the baby. The reasons for this particular disturbing scene are explained as the film wears on, but it also forces you to reconsider your stance on Rachel as well.
Where this film really succeeds is constantly rethinking how you feel about these characters the more you get to know them. All three of the main women are initially depicted as doing one fucked up thing or another, but they reveal themselves to be much more complicated and nuanced as the film wears on. Similarly, the men are initially shown to be sympathetic characters, but the movie unravels some pretty dark shit they themselves have committed, many times it’s way worse than than what any of the women have ever done. The layers you have to peel through is what really makes this film a solid watch despite the fact it doesn’t really do anything new.
But doing something new isn’t required if you’re doing something established pretty fucking well. And that’s what The Girl on the Train is: a pretty good suspense thriller with interesting characters and a solid story with some interesting themes. And hey, best of all, it doesn’t end with a phenomenally idiotic climax that is so absurdly implausible that you question whether the film had any merit whatsoever.
There is the element that is a bit uncomfortable in that your primary protagonist is essentially a stalker, and ends up unraveling a mystery through the fact she pushed forward with her obviously deteriorating psyche. Also, a third act revelation feels a tad wish-fulfillment and could be seen as making excuses for some people in the audience. God it’s so hard not to talk about this ending without spoiling, because the direction the filmmakers went with also radically alters your perception of the men in the movie (which itself is an important theme). That gripe aside, there’s not much to criticize aside from an on-the-nose finale and some pretty flat camerawork that doesn’t really engage you but it’s serviceable nonetheless.
Pretty damn great work for a film that’s not looking to knock on any top ten lists any time soon, but it’s still worth a watch. I’ll give this a low…