Anatomy of a Movie Trailer: The Girl on the Train

The Girl on the Train, by Paula Hawkins
The Girl on the Train, by Paula Hawkins.

While the film version of Paula Hawkins’ smash-hit bestseller The Girl on the Train was inevitable since about Week Two of its eventual 13-week ride atop the bestseller lists, people only got seriously excited about the adaptation when the cast announcements began, because any film that features Emily Blunt, Rebecca Ferguson, and Allison Janney (not to mention Laura Prepon, Lisa Kudrow, and, oh yeah, Just Theroux and Luke Evans) has a lot going for it right out of the gate.

And with the arrival of the first full-length trailer we can make some initial judgments about the film, the casting, and everything else. And we will judge, because book lovers are the most judgmental people in the world. Adapt one of our favorite books, and we will be giving your trailer the stinkeye until we’re satisfied.

Well, we’ve seen the trailer (see it here if you missed it), and we’re ready to offer some judgments.

The New Gone Girl

Continuing on the tradition of films about Basic White People Who are Secretly Evil, The Girl on the Train may well be the most Basic trailer ever seen. Which is not, I should stress, a judgment on the final quality of the film or even our excitement level about it—it’s just an observation that we have a cast that is almost monolithically white despite being set in New York City, one of the most racially diverse areas on Earth. The costumes, the houses, the cars—even the nearly decade-old Kanye song chosen as the music gives the trailer a distinct target audience of people who were in the same room as Hip back in 2008.

Which makes perfect sense, of course, because that’s one of the themes bubbling under the story itself—that tired moment when you realize that despite the fact that you’re not exactly old yet, you’ve definitely left behind your carefree days of dancing to Heartless in a bar while your friends drunkenly cheer you on.

Or, put another way, those carefree days when dancing drunkenly in a bar was cool instead of sad.

That Cast, Tho

Still, it certainly looks good. Of course, you can make a trailer for any movie look good. Trailers have the advantage of not needing to tell a coherent story or have actual performances. It’s all quick cuts to well-chosen two-second long snippets, plus music, plus mysterious lines taken out of context. But Emily Blunt, well we’d basically follow Emily Blunt anywhere at this point, and she is remarkably well cast in the lead. Ditto for Allison Janney, playing Detective Riley. Janney, a good friend of Director Tate Taylor, is exactly right for the role. Rebecca Ferguson is always a welcome sight, and the rest of the cast are physically on point, if nothing else.

The Tension

The best part about the trailer is the tension it sports. The Girl on the Train is essentially a Unreliable Narrator taken to the extreme; Rachel’s self-loathing and alcoholic blackouts mean the reader (or, in this case, the viewer) shouldn’t be able to trust anything she remembers or thinks she remembers. The trailer manages to convey this slippery sense through a combination of well-chosen moments with Blunt (although the line “I don’t remember ...

there’s some time missing” is a little too on the nose) and some nifty visual fake-outs, like Megan (Haley Bennett) looking like a corpse on a slab when she’s actually exercising in the gym, or Megan’s opening lines.

What the trailer manages to do is exactly what the book does: Each and every major character is framed in a such a way as to seem unreliable, even ominous, and untrustworthy. If you’ve read the book you think you know what to expect (though a slight trick like the one Gillian Flynn played on audiences with the revised movie ending of Gone Girl might be in the offing, who knows), but if you haven’t you could reasonably assume anyone speaking a line in this trailer is the secret villain, and that is a good thing for the adaptation of this bestseller.

In the end, the trailer makes it look like odds are this will be a faithful and stylishly-done adaptation, even if the film could be retitled White People are Crazy and everyone would totally believe it.

If you haven’t read The Girl on the Train yet, you should; yes, there’s a twisty ending (“twisty” actually doesn’t quite cover it) but there’s no guarantee the film will have the same ending, and even if it does part of the fun in watching this movie will be seeing if they can capture the obscure magic of Hawkins’ writing.