Rachel Watson rides the train every single day. She has seen the houses outside of the train compartment so many times, she starts to recognize their inhabitants; a beautiful, young couple in the one house and Rachel’s ex-husband with his new family in the next. Rachel starts to imagine what their lives must be like – happy, careless and filled with love – so unlike her own life. But one day, she sees something happening from the train, something terrible, and Rachel gets entangled in a mystery that hits unexpectedly close to home.
Right from its publication in 2015, Paula Hawkins’ bestelling novel “The Girl On The Train” has been compared to another incredibly popular thriller based on a shattered marriage: Gillian Flynn’s “Gone Girl” (2012). Now that the adaptation of Hawkins’ novel has finally made its way to the cinemas, the comparison is more relevant than ever. And indeed, the stories do appear similar and both adaptations are shot in a similar style. But which film comes out of this comparison as the winner?
The critics’ reactions to “The Girl On The Train” (2016) have been very mixed, with some applauding the Hitchcokian influences and others comparing the film to your everyday tabloid article. Yours truly has found a position right in the middle of these two ends, both really liking the film and being disappointed in the final result. Indeed, the voyeuristic aspect is vital to Rachel’s character – it’s one of the main things that defines her strange and often unaccountable behavior. Rachel (Emily Blunt) watches a beautiful and young couple, Scott and Megan Hipwell (Luke Evans and Haley Bennett), from the train every single day, imagining their perfect lives and their loving relationship. In the film, voyeurism is a very central element, which reflects the main character very well. As an audience, you find yourself secretly watching this perfect couple, just like Rachel – sometimes from afar, seeing only their silhouettes through the windows, and other times very up-close, in their bedroom for example. But at the same time, the film does feel like your reading a tabloid article about a missing celebrity. It’s sensationalized and dramatized, obviously for entertainment’s purposes, but it takes up a lot of screening time and a lot of the audience’s attention. This while, in Hawkins’ novel, the focus lies much more on Rachel as a character, her psychological struggles and alcoholism, and the dark reasons behind all this. I think if the film had steered away from the tabloid-like story-telling and more towards the psychological development of Rachel’s character, it would have been a more interesting and challenging film.
But despite this, there’s still one element of the film that really surprised me. I think the film’s biggest strength lies is it’s use of suspension. Even though I had read Hawkins’ novel and I already knew what was going to happen, I still really felt the suspension. Even though I knew what had happened to Megan Hipwell all along, I still found myself on the edge of my seat, feverishly thinking along with Rachel as she realizes what has happened and, perhaps most importantly, who is responsible. So even though the film felt like a tabloid article at times, “The Girl On The Train” (2016) effortlessly mentioned to hold my attention and to build up tension.
However, I still couldn’t get the comparison to “Gone Girl” out of my head. Already when I walked out of the cinema that night, I started comparing both films, outlining the similarities and differences. Yes, the stories are quite similar in the sense that they both deal with shattered marriages, a murder mystery and sexual intrigue. And yes, both films are shot very similarly; heavily stylized (which I’m a big fan of, by the way, so you don’t hear me complaining about both films’ visuals), with an intense camera focus on the characters, and cool-toned, clean color schemes. But, in the end, there can only be one film coming out of this comparison as the “winner” – and in this case, it would be “Gone Girl”. The story is better, with much more thrilling and original turns and revelations, and the film is more interesting to watch (David Fincher as director,