The Girl on the Train (2016): Gone Girl…Not (Review)

Emily Blunt as Rachel

Directed by Tate Taylor (The Help, Get On Up) from a screenplay by Erin Cressida Wilson based on the book of the same name by English author Paula Hawkins, The Girl on the Train is a splendid mix of layers hidden amongst a myriad of smoke and mirrors. The film has been compared to the 2014 film Gone Girl, but there really is nothing to bring the two together. 

There is a missing woman, which is the big theme in the Gillian Flynn novel and movie. But where the characters in Flynn’s opus are all self centered and obsessed with their own character arcs, Hawkins’ people are all illusion, pain and hidden misery.

No one is as they appear initially. Emily Blunt plays Rachel, the “girl on the train,” who seems to be calm and retrospective. She fantasizes about the young woman she sees from the moving vehicle. On her journey to and from New York, she sees Megan (Haley Bennett) and her husband Scott (Luke Evans) as the “perfect couple.” 

As the film progresses we learn that the couple she “spies” on live right near where she and her ex-husband lived. Justin Theroux plays Tom, Rachel’s ex, and he has a new life with Anna (Rebecca Ferguson) and their child Evie. 

The Girl on the Train is a long film that manages to seem much shorter than its nearly two hour running time.  We are lead down a path that twists and turns with each new revelation. Things are seen mainly from Rachel’s point of view but we are also let in on Megan’s state of mind.

Each character in the film has a secret, some hidden on purpose and others via misdirection and at least one character has the truth skewed by someone else. The end of the film, as well as the murder midway through, is surprising.

This drama/mystery/thriller is a perfect whodunit with a trail of confusing  clues that slowly but surely lead us to the killer.  It is only with the final reveal that we learn the truth and on top of it being somewhat heartbreaking for at least two of the characters  it is also shocking.

Not having read the source book by Hawkins it is unclear just how closely Tate and Wilson followed the original storyline. In the end, however, it does not really matter as the film is put together perfectly. We stick with the story, as it unfolds in fits and starts, and we get caught up in each character’s tale.

Blunt may have the best backstory and she manages, with the aid of some brilliant makeup and spot on acting, to utterly convince as the alcoholic with memory problems. She unflinchingly allows the camera to linger on her blotchy complexion and those slightly unfocused eyes. It is a real tour de force performance.

Bennett is sexy, sultry, remote and dissatisfied. It is all too easy to see where her fixation with sex comes from and her need to live in the moment.

Ferguson comes across as the trophy wife who is, like Bennett’s character, a little distant.  She has issues with Blunt’s character and emotes a certain naivety that is both sad and surprising.

Lisa Kudrow makes the most of a crucial cameo as Tom’s old boss and Allison Janney almost steals the show as Detective Riley. 

The Girl on the Train has also been called a “woman’s film” and indeed this story features a microscopic look at the three women featured in the movie. However, the film works on many more levels than just a “chick flick” and as a mystery/thriller hits every single note without one miss.

By the end of the film we care and feel for each major female character. It says a lot about the quality of the script, the acting and the direction that we can empathize with everyone but the one real villain of the piece.

The Girl on the Train is a full 5 star film.  Once one begins watching it, there is no question that it must be finished. The urge to learn the truth amidst all the false clues and misremembered events overwhelms all. Watch this film now and get caught up in the story and its characters.

The Hole (2009): There’s Something Down There

Directed by Joe Dante and written by Mark L. Smith, The Hole is a horror film that is aimed at the teen audience no doubt. But despite the fact that the targeted demographic is quite a lot younger than I am, I enjoyed the film immensely.

The film stars Chris Massoglia (Cirque du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant),Haley Bennett (The Haunting of Molly Hartley), Nathan Gamble (The Mist) and a brilliant (too small) cameo by acting veteran Bruce Dern.

Brothers Dane (Massoglia) and Lucas (Gamble) and mother Susan (Teri Polo) move the quiet suburbs of Bensonville from New York. While the family is settling in their new home, the boys discover a hole in the basement that has been covered and locked. With the boy’s curiosity peaked, they pry open the hole’s lid while mom Susan is at work.

Once they open the lid, they find out that the hole appears to be so deep that there isn’t a bottom to it. They enlist the help of their next door neighbour Julie (Bennett) to find out if she knows about the hole. Perplexed they decide to leave it alone and close the lid. But it appears that when they opened the hole, they let something out.

All three of the children have something scary happen to them. Lucas has a fear of clowns and a clown puppet shows up in his room, alive. Dane is visited by a large, very strong scary man and Julie is visited by a ghost in her dark bathroom.

Bruce Dern as Creepy Carl.

After watching the hole all night to see if anything comes out, Julie tells the boys about the previous owner of the house “Creepy” Carl (Dern). They decide to visit Carl and find him sitting in a room where he is surrounded by light bulbs. Carl admonishes the boys for opening the hole and tells them that by doing so they’ve let “the darkness” out and it will get them.

As the children leave, Carl’s light bulbs start going out and he is left in the dark screaming.

The rest of the film is about the three kids battling the things that come out of the hole. They try to defeat the hole and the darkness.

Although this was a horror/thriller aimed at a young teen audience, the movie works well. It was filmed in 3D and opened to positive reviews. I did not watch the 3D version; I watched the blu ray DVD and still enjoyed the film.

The Hole is very similar to the 2003 film Holes which was aimed at a similar demographic. Unlike Holes with its too simple plot and childish villains, The Hole has genuinely creepy ghosts and scary monsters.

The film has an “open” ending which seems to suggest the possibility of a sequel but it appears that despite the good opening reviews the film itself did not make enough money to qualify for one.

Despite the fact that I did enjoy the film and the creative ways that the three kids disposed of the monsters (or ghosts) I felt it could have benefited from more Bruce Dern (more cowbell, I need to hear that cowbell) and less of the neighbour girl. But that could have just been me.

The actors all do a capable job and the film is definitely worth watching. Although The Hole is not in the same league as the 1987 film The Monster Squad, it is just as enjoyable.

Scary clown puppet.