In the wake of David Fincher’s Gone Girl back in 2014, a particular niche within the cinematic realm made itself more pronounced. One that explicitly involved women taking the role of captive, but was implicitly about inner feminine strength in all its varying forms. 2016’s The Girl On The Train followed in its wake, and it seems that director Paul Feig (Bridesmaids, Spy, Ghostbusters) has set up to contribute another story in the same mystery-thriller vein. And quite frankly, it’s one that only further shows that there’s life in this sub-genre yet.
Anna Kendrick’s mommy blogger Stephanie isn’t so much bubbly as she is submerged in a carbonated maelstrom, serving as our lead and occasional font of giggly tension-relief. There are elements of Single White Female to be found in how much she initially copes with Blake Lively’s Emily, and watching her performance, it’s difficult to argue with. Lively’s level of sheer confidence and almost-superhuman poise radiates out of her in every frame, bolstered by how femininity itself is presented through her character. She’s self-assertive, clever, wanting to see women take a less passive stance with their surroundings, and unwaveringly caring for her son. But as the story deepens and more of the dark feminine peeks through the cracks, we get a continuation of similar themes in the genre regarding how women are ‘supposed to act’ and how certain behaviours are actively discouraged, along with how that very restrictive mindset can lead to its own variety of problems.
It’s a midway point between the battle of wits in Gone Girl and the look at how toxic masculinity affects the women engulfed in it from Girl On The Train.
That’s when the film is at its peak, which unfortunately isn’t always consistent. Feig’s primary background in comedy ends up coming to the fore at awkward moments, ultimately cutting into the tension of the main mystery. His brand of genre alchemy isn’t as strong here. But even with that set back, his approach to this brand of thriller shows that he’s got potential with this style.
Feig’s actor directing makes the frequent bouts of deception and gaslighting resonate, the eclectic French pop soundtrack harkens to some of the genre influences in the story, and given his reputation for female-led productions, this still fits nicely with his storytelling sensibilities.
Kendrick, Lively and Henry Golding (Crazy Rich Asians) as the latter’s husband, interacting and parsing each other for truth, shows amazing synergy between the acting talent.
This isn’t a perfect thriller, as its handling of tone tends to slip more times than it should ever need to, but as a depiction of femininity in both its brighter and darker forms, it can stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the more interesting examples of the last few years. It’s classy in its aesthetic, crisp in its framing and delivery, and confrontational yet seductive in its mood. Do yourself a simple favour and check this one out.