This adaptation of Paula Hawkins’ British-set best-seller hops around in time, with handy captions, and mostly follows three women involved in a murder with the two men mixed up with them and it relegated to the sidelines – it’s been pushed as a twist-laden surprise factory, but the culprit is in the end exactly who it would have been in a 1940s domestic noir, an Italian giallo, a 1970s TV movie or a 1990s top shelf erotic thriller. Despite mostly good performances – with Emily Blunt excellent as an alcoholic who has to investigate because she can’t remember if she did it – it’s a glum, drab, draggy experience, directed with no flair for menace by Tate Taylor (The Help).
Rachel (Blunt) commutes to a NYC job she actually lost months ago so she can spy on the road where her ex-husband Tom (Justin Theroux, impersonating Julian McMahon) lives with his new ife Anna (Rebecca Ferguson, now of the Mission: Impossible franchise) and their new baby from the train but she gets distracted by a house two doors down where sexy cxouple Megan (Haley Bennett, from Kaboom and Kristy) and Scott (Luke Evans,playing Yank) have what seems to be an enviable relationship though we pull out of Rachel’s POV to see that they’re pretty miserable too and that Megan has been working as a nanny for Tom and Anna but just quit her job (which Rachel didn’t know, though she’s supposedly been stalking her ex). Waking up bloodied with a memory lapse, Rachel knows she had some sort of encounter the night before – and Megan has disappeared, only to turn up dead in the woods.
In increasingly unlikely turns, Rachel befriends Scott posing as a friend of the dead woman’s – the cop on the case (Allison Janney) wonders what her number two suspect is doing stalking her number one suspect – and signs up with Megan’s sexy shrink and possible lover Dr Kamal Abdic (Edgar Ramirez) to dig deeper into the case. As she has memory flashes of what happened on the night in question, Rachel also thinks back over the collapse of her marriage, which she remembers as being caused by her infertility and bad behaviour while drunk until a chance encounter on a train (with Lisa Kudrow) makes her wonder whether she hasn’t been Gaslighted all along and blamed for things that weren’t her fault (just like on The Archers). A few plot developments during this phase of the film are almost clever, though it keeps tripping up over tiresome business involving mobile phone records and emails – which are about as interesting in a murder mystery as a congressional enquiry.
All the men in the film are glowering pin-ups and the women fragile neurotics, which means it’s easy to get fed up with them all before the overheated climax. There’s one relishable moment at the finale, involving a handy penknife implement. Screenwriter Erin Cressida Wilson (Secretary) gives the impression of someone trying very hard to make cinematic sense of a popular but fundamentally rubbish novel. I imagine her in a bar somewhere with Catherine Hardwicke, Kelly Marcel and David Koepp, comparing the depths of Hawkins, Stephenie Meyer, E.L. James and Dan Brown.