Rachel (Emily Blunt) takes the same train every day, to and from her home, and on that journey she likes to watch the world go by from her carriage window. The more she has done so, the more she likes to catch sight of a young woman (Haley Bennett) who in the morning is there on the balcony of her house, taking in the sights, and sometimes with her husband (Luke Evans) where they canoodle in full view of the passengers. Rachel likes to make up all sorts of stories about this woman in her head, imagining her life is so much better than her own, that the woman is a successful artist just as she would prefer to be. But Rachel has more of a connection to her than she realises: Rachel is an alcoholic, and tends to forget things...
Which places her in jeopardy when her fantasies intrude on reality and the woman she spies on, Megan, mysteriously disappears. This was based on the huge-selling novel by Paula Hawkins, exactly the sort of book that you would see being read on railway journeys appropriately enough, and many found it a page turner on the scale that Gone Girl had been around the same time; it was surely that previous film adaptation that the production here had in mind when hoping for the same levels of success. And more than that a talking point, leaving it the film you just had to see when the book had been the one you just had to read, yet it did not quite work out that way, as the reaction was lukewarm at best.
Maybe this needed a hook of controversy, but instead it relied on an excellent performance by Blunt to pull together the threads of a plot that did not stand up to much scrutiny in the cold light of day (and it was a cold, autumnal-looking film). Director Tate Taylor attempted to match his lead character's confusion, which we initially believe was triggered by her drink problem, by shooting in a woozy style that left those who had not read the source material at something of a loss, though that said it was a mystery and you were not supposed to be one hundred percent clear on the whys and wherefores from the outset, you had to see the world through Rachel's red-rimmed eyes for a while until you began to twig what was up.
But there were three women we were concentrating on for that to take effect, Rachel, Megan and a third, Anna (Rebecca Ferguson) who happens to be the new wife of Rachel's ex-husband Tom (Justin Theroux), and has provided him with the baby she was unable to. Meanwhile, what Rachel does not know is that Megan is Anna's nanny, or at least she is at the start of the film whereupon she announces to her employer that she has a new job and will be leaving her in the lurch, as it were, though there is another reason Megan won't be around anymore: she goes missing. In truth, if it were not for the tricksy technique, not flashy but a little too clever for its own good with its multiple, staggered flashbacks and representations of Rachel's tries at piecing together her memory, then this would be a lot easier to work out.
And even then, you might be aware of who was ultimately the villain in the early stages, though another element Taylor employed was to make his cast behave with dedicated dourness, as if they were about to snap and start an argument, which sort of concealed the one character who was prompting the others to run around at their manipulative beck and call. There was also Edgar Ramirez as a poker-faced psychiatrist who Megan sees, and Rachel believes she has seen in an embrace with the woman on that balcony, and Allison Janney showed up as a police detective significantly lacking professional tact, but really this was Blunt's show all the way seeing as how she had the most to get her teeth into as far as the performing went. Without her, a film that seemed constantly on the verge of falling apart and descending into a dull murk had an aspect worth sticking with, but even so, once the big reveal arrived it was less a shock than you imagined the makers would have wanted, even as it promised to say something interesting about the exploitation and blame of the vulnerable by the corrupt, but didn't quite pull that off either. Music by Danny Elfman.