by John S
This month marks the release on home video of The Girl On The Train, the adaptation of the bestseller that was positioned as “The New Gone Girl.” Let’s take a look at the history of the suspense sub-genre that Gone Girl and The Girl On The Train both belong to: “Oh, My God – I’m Banging a PSYCHO!!!” Thrillers. Or just OMG-IBAP!!! Thrillers, for short. OMG-IBAP!!! Thrillers are marked by four elements: a protagonist who is (1) in an intimate relationship with (2) someone who seems normal but is actually (3) bat-shit crazy which eventually makes the protagonist realize: (4) “Oh My God – I’m Banging a PSYCHO!!!”
The earliest OMG-IBAP!!! Thriller I can think of is from Alfred Hitchcock himself. 1941’s Suspicion features one dingbat of a heroine who gets married to a dude she knows jack-squat about a mere few weeks after meeting him. Then she’s hilariously blind to the fact that he’s a lying douche-mooch who only wants her money. So what if he looks like Cary Grant? A decent flick, but not one of Hitch’s finest. Mainly due to a lame cop-out ending.
Some of the film noirs from the 40s and 50s also double as OMG-IBAP!!! Thrillers. Special mention must go to 1956’s A Kiss Before Dying, the first adaptation of Ira Levin’s novel. Robert Wagner plays a murderous social climber who schemes to marry into a wealthy dynasty. However, the unplanned pregnancy of his heiress fiancee forces him to chuck her over the side of a building and make it look like suicide. No worries. There’s a second heiress daughter for him to woo and pursue. How romantic.
Those wacky Italians get into the game in the 60s and 70s, infusing their Gialli (Spaghetti Thrillers) with a lot of OMG-IBAP!!! flavors. Four Flies on Grey Velvet, The Cat O’Nine Tails, Death Walks at Midnight, The Fifth Cord, The Psychic and others feature protagonists who canoodle with sketchy booty that may lead them into serious pain. And I’m not talking about gonorrhea. These flicks are trickier because we all know Italians are the most bang-worthy folks in the world, so can you really blame anyone for having sex with Crazy if it looks like Daria Nicolodi, Mirella D’Angelo, Gianni Garko, or Franco Nero? Just try and stop me.
The early-to-mid-80s gives us three classy entries: Body Heat, Still Of The Night (with Meryl Streep, of all people), and Jagged Edge. The most famous OMG-IBAP!!! Thriller of all time, though, comes out in the 1987. Fatal Attraction becomes a gigantic box-office hit and cultural phenomenon. Never mind it’s basically a yuppie rehash of another OMG-IBAP!!! Thriller from the early 70s: Play Misty For Me (with Clint Eastwood!).
Fatal Attraction‘s success cranks up the roll-out. 1989 gives us probably the best of ’em all: Sea Of Love, which is basically Basic Instinct with more brains and less libido. 1991 brings us a misfire that could’ve been great: a remake of A Kiss Before Dying, directed by James Dearden, Fatal Attraction‘s screenwriter. Despite a tighter script, great music by Howard Shore, and strong work from Matt Dillon as the ambitious killer, this version is hampered by Sean Young’s uneven performance as the imperiled heiress.
Basic Instinct (basically Sea of Love with more style and less substance) comes out in 1992 and is a worldwide hit. The 90s also bring us Deceived, Shattered, Whispers In The Dark, Final Analysis, Body of Evidence, Sliver, Malice, Dream Lover, The Color of Night, Fear, Never Talk to Strangers, Traces of Red, The Last Seduction, and Jade. Unfortunately, these flicks pull in less and less at the box office as the 90s go on. Overexposure looms.
Accordingly, most of the next decade feature very few of these movies at cineplexes. Then, in 2009, we get Obsessed, which is basically Fatal Attraction with an African-American couple and a psycho one-night-stand who is now a, well, she’s still a white chick. With its warnings about the perils of porking The Crazy-Ass White She-Devil, Obsessed becomes a modest hit. But not enough to kick-start another wave of OMG-IBAP!!! Thrillers.
In 2014, we get the movie that is. Gone Girl, adapted from the bestseller by Gillian Flynn, is basically the twisted offspring you would get if Basic Instinct and The War of the Roses had some hot-n-heavy hate sex. Rosamund Pike and Ben Affleck are great as, respectively, the titular missing chick and the unfaithful scuzball of a hubby who may have offed her. This is an OMG-IBAP!!! Thriller on steroids. Let’s just say the secret villain of Gone Girl makes all other movie baddies look like chumps at Amateur Night.
Gone Girl is a huge worldwide hit and exactly the kind of spark the dormant OMG-IBAP!!! sub-genre needs. Sure enough, the next couple of years brings us four entries that do well at the box office: The Perfect Guy, The Gift, When The Bough Breaks, and one of my All-Time Favorite Bad Movies: The Boy Next Door. It’s a hilarious (unintentionally) account of a 40-something cougar (J. Lo) hooking up with a much-younger hottie (Ryan Guzman) and then pushing him away. I mean, come on: the guy looks like Ryan Guzman, not Danny DeVito. What is the problem here?
That brings us to the OMG-IBAP!!! Event of 2016: The Girl On The Train. The book was a hit that was hyped as the next Gone Girl. The film opens in October to decent business. Ultimately, though, it finishes its North American run with less than half of Gone Girl‘s total box office, an apt comparison of the two films on many levels: The Girl On The Train is considerably less than Gone Girl.
What does help The Girl On The Train is a strong central performance from Emily Blunt as alcoholic divorcee Rachel Watson, who one day glimpses something outside the commuter train she takes every day. What she sees embroils her in the case of a missing woman named Megan (Haley Bennett) who may have been offed either by her husband, Scott (Luke Evans), or a mystery lover. The disappearance has a ripple effect that also touches Rachel’s ex-husband Tom (Justin Theroux) and his new bride, Anna (Rebecca Ferguson).
If anyone else would have played Rachel, it’s doubtful The Girl On The Train would’ve gotten any mileage at all. Fortunately, Emily Blunt manages the near-impossible and makes her character both tragic and touching at the same time, instead of annoying and exasperating as she was in the novel. She carries the movie, plain and simple. Blunt deserves some kind of award for making this flawed flick watchable. Unlike Gone Girl, which managed to weave its various threads and make them all dovetail together by the end, The Girl On The Train just creates a tangled mess that is only partially resolved. The reveal of whodunit makes some sense but is flat and not much of a surprise to anyone even paying partial attention.
What all memorable movies do, whether they are OMG-IBAP!!! Thrillers or another genre, is heighten reality. They don’t just reflect it. Therein lies the problem with The Girl On The Train. All it does is trot out some fairly routine twists that would be more at home on a TV soap opera and this humdrum quality affects the whole movie. Everything except for Emily Blunt’s performance, which begs for a much better, more vivid film to showcase it. A movie like…Gone Girl.
Two words for Ms. Blunt: Go, girl.
John S. is a Scarecrow volunteer who loves James Bond, Jason Bourne, Italian Gialli, Dario Argento, Hitchcock, Ridley Scott, Peanut M&Ms with popcorn, Julia Roberts in PRETTY WOMAN, Theo James in anything, HALLOWEEN (movie and holiday), Scarecrow Video, Russell Crowe as a villain, strawberry soda, and Karaoke – not necessarily in that order. He also thinks he was a Bond Girl in another life, maybe a cross between Dr. Christmas Jones and Dr. Holly Goodhead.