The Girl on the Train

girl_on_the_train_ver3

Though it ultimately unravels in a predictable ways, resorting to standard thriller tropes to sustain its narrative, The Girl on the Train remains compelling throughout. Though it oscillates in time and between various strands, the main focus is Rachel (Emily Blunt), a single woman who travels by rail to New York every day for work. It just so happens that her train line passes by her old street where she’s afforded expansive views of her former home and her ex-husband Tom (Justin Theroux) who now lives with Anna (Rebecca Ferguson).

Just a couple of doors along, there’s the couple’s babysitter Megan (Haley Bennett) whose seemingly idyllic existence is the rabid focus of Rachel’s daydreams of a return to happier days. Then one day she notices Megan on the balcony of her house in the embrace a man other than her husband Scott (Luke Evans) just before she goes missing.

Rachel, battling alcoholism amongst other internal demons is sucked into a whirlpool of confusion as she attempts to insert herself into the drama. Simultaneously, she can’t be sure of anyone’s reality, especially her own, not with fractured memories rising to the surface to haunt her. But are these memories genuine or just a concoction of her troubled, slowly disintegrating mind? Her behaviour becomes increasingly erratic and events are presented in such a way as to make them as ambiguous as possible, deepening the mystery of Megan’s vanishing and who exactly has played a role in proceedings.

Certainly, you can pick the film to pieces for its diminishing credibility, fall back on clichéd thriller elements and hackneyed plot deviations, however two things greatly distinguish it. Firstly, there’s Emily Blunt’s simply astonishing performance. We witness her channeling an array of bleak emotional colours in her riveting portrayal of Rachel; the woman’s psychological disarray is captured with genuinely unnerving intensity at times. Tate Taylor’s direction is excellent too; he’s acutely aware this isn’t a dazzlingly original or profound screenplay but he take interesting chances visually, directing the film with an impressive assuredness and invention. Wisely, he makes the most of Blunt’s gifts by very frequently allowing us distressingly close-up coverage of her expressive face and Rachel’s damaged psyche.

Based on Paula Hawkins’s stupendously best-selling novel, The Girl on the Train obviously has a guaranteed built-in audience curious to see if this latest breakout crime thriller has been as successfully adapted for the big screen as Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl which landed in the hands of director David Fincher in 2014. It has resonant themes placed in palatable contexts, like those dangerous perversions that flourish behind the curtains in middle-class suburbia. And even if none of the other performers can come close to matching Blunt’s formidable range, this is definitely a commute worth undertaking.

High-Rise

high-rise-kaleidoscope-poster

 

J.G. Ballard’s seminal work, published in 1978, has long sat alongside a slew of equally influential novels that, upon first release, were deemed ‘unfilmable’. Prime examples include William S. Burroughs’ Naked Lunch and Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. The former, a flawed curiosity piece, was shot in 1991 by David Cronenberg; the latter by Terry Gilliam without a shred of lucidity to keep it on the rails. Even Ballard’s own Crash fell into a similar category; again it was Cronenberg who finally took a shot at this ‘difficult’ novel, producing a fascinating but divisive mini-masterpiece of perversion in 1996. High-Rise has long remained in formidable defiance of adaptation attempts however the time has finally arrived. It’s now been audaciously brought to life by one of modern British cinema’s brightest lights, Ben Wheatley, and his partner and regular screenwriter Amy Jump.

The early scenes of High-Rise (2016) are curiously off-putting and alienating, immersing us in a weird retro world with a colour scheme and production design that draw attention to themselves in unfortunate ways. Wheatley and his cinematographer Laurie Rose find interesting ways to negotiate us through the maze of this scaled-down, closed-off society in miniature but it takes half an hour before we’ve come to grips with the off-kilter aesthetics. Initially, the world contained within the high rise is very much commensurate with the pristine, idealistic conception of its creator Royal (Jeremy Irons) who inhabits a floor on his own, replete with full-scale garden and other outlandish features. But human nature has a horrifying way of insinuating itself into any perfect design and before long tiny indicators of trouble begin to emerge, the first cracks developing into monstrous apertures that leave no room for repair.

Anyone familiar with High-Rise will know that it’s notorious for detailing the grotesque devolution of our species, of stripping back – with acidic fervour – the veneer that separates humankind and our civilised façade with our baser instinct which, as Ballard posits, given a chance to sniff the air and investigate, will almost certainly run amok. The world into which Dr. Robert Laing (Tom Hiddleston) is deposited has a self-contained, hyper-reality to it; the world beyond only appears, tangentially, like a mirage hovering on the horizon, removed and coldly distant.

Ballard’s story sounds a bleak and dire warning for our race; in providing a stark and defining metaphor for our propensity for a rapid descent into savagery, he only hints at emotional vestiges underlining the contamination beyond a generalised anger and outrage at the inequality of this mini-society’s striations. The excellent Hiddleston proves to be the most accurate approximation of Laing you could imagine; there’s nothing particularly sympathetic about the man, but then he was never intended to be anything but a contextualising presence. In essence he serves as the primary witness and eyes of the audience. As we’re greeted to the subversion of order, cordiality and civility, they bottom out and begin feeding the savage, autonomous tendrils that swarm and submerge the high-rise into a primitively recast system of privilege and attainment.

The many supporting roles are all superbly cast, with Luke Evans especially effective as Wilder, one of the devolution’s chief catalysts, an outsider whose quest for visceral thrills denied him by the respectability and civility of the high-rise are key to kick-starting the crossing of the line into barbarity. Sienna Miller, Elizabeth Moss, James Purefoy and Peter Ferdinando are other standouts though Wheatley has assembled a genuinely flawless ensemble. Special mention should also be made of Clint Mansell’s mesmerising score which ranks amongst his very finest, perhaps even topping his work for Darren Aronofsky in the way it intelligently and intuitively taps into the darkly evolving psychological aspects of the high rise’s inhabitants and their gratuitous capitulation to disorder as the new order.

Almost out of necessity to serve the story’s essential truthfulness, the film provides a provocative spectacle, though the ugliness and contemptuousness of the increasingly outrageous violence will become unpalatable and too hard to stomach for many. However, for much of its length I revelled in the faithfulness of Wheatley’s vision and if it does drag on, even to repetitive excess, it’s ultimately a minor failing of what is a creatively daring attempt to cinematically render a story that has lost neither its appeal nor social relevance.