The Emily Blunt-starring film The Girl on the Train, released in theatres this week, is the latest example of a Hollywood trend that has me very excited: the return and elevation of a certain kind of thriller, the kind that features attractive suburban couples with nice kitchens whose lives are ripped apart by something within their own social sphere.
As highlighted in this space almost exactly three years ago, these kinds of thrillers faced a rough patch at the dawn of the new millennium. With studios instead favouring giant blockbusters, Oscar-bait dramas and low-budget horror, the architecturally-resplendent suburban thriller lost its way.
Then along came Gone Girl in 2014 - David Fincher and Gillian Flynn's masterful adaptation of Flynn's best-selling book captured the collective culture's hearts and minds to a degree not seen since perhaps Fatal Attraction in 1987. It saved the sub-genre, and demonstrated that there was still plenty of stories to mine in this area, and more importantly, more money to be made.
Just as the Paula Hawkins book on which it is based became a hit in the wake of the publishing phenomenon that was Flynn's Gone Girl, The Girl On The Train is being positioned, and received, as a cinematic successor to the Ben Affleck/Rosamund Pike film.
Blunt stars as Rachel, a somewhat tragic alcoholic who takes more than a passing interest in the seemingly idyllic couple who's backyard she voyeuristically observes every day on her rail commute into New York (changed from London in the book). When a mysterious fate befalls the wife she's been watching, Rachel further ingratiates herself into the situation, which brings her into contact with her ex-husband and his new family.
The key trait across all of these thrillers, apart from nice kitchens, is that the threat presented is not some inexplicable, larger-than-life external force - it comes from within. It comes from the people we love. The people we live with. The people we thought we knew.
The films have power because this threat often destabilised what could be described as an idealised, aspirational lifestyle.
The Girl on the Train
is the highest-profile film of its type to arrive since
, but there have also been a few other notable
films released in the past few years, and there's a doozy on the horizon.
Last year's The Gift is a fantastic thriller that proved a minor success in America, but remains underseen elsewhere. Australian actor Joel Edgerton wrote, directed and stars as Gordo, a high school acquaintance of Simon (Jason Bateman) who, despite not seeing him for twenty years, shows up and awkwardly attempts to make friends with Simon and his wife Robyn (Rebecca Hall).
The Gift layers the familiar conventions of this kind of story with a welcome degree of emotional complexity and insight, a common trait of the best modern examples of these kinds of thrillers, and something Gone Girl also did well. In addition to suddenly announcing himself as a writer/director to watch, Edgerton is perfectly chilling as Gordo. Bateman's specific brand of deadpan smarm has never been better utilised.
Another great recent example is The Invitation, an independent American film that proves you no longer need a giant budget to present a glossy thriller.
Logan Marshall-Green (currently starring on SoHo's stellar drama series Quarry) plays Will, a divorcé who, along with his current girlfriend Kira (Emayatzy Corinealdi), attends a dinner party at the chic Hollywood Hills home of his ex-wife Eden (Tammy Blanchard) and her new husband David (Michiel Huisman from Game of Thrones). A bunch of their old friends will also be there, marking the first time they've all hung out since a tragedy split the group apart several years earlier.
Although Will is clearly in a paranoid, suggestible state of mind, he can't ignore his instincts when he suspects something is up. The film serves as an emphatic re-affirmation of the directorial prowess of Karyn Kusama, who made an exhilarating debut in 2000 with Girlfight, then suffered through the awful 2005 adaptation of Aeon Flux before making 2009's Jennifer's Body.
Despite not being much of a commercial hit, The Invitation's undeniable excellence has made Kusama something of a hot property again, and I just hope she makes another Yuppies In Peril film next. She's very good at it.
After The Girl on the Train, the next film along these lines is Tom Ford's highly anticipated Nocturnal Animals (released in NZ on November 10), the red-hot buzz around which guarantees it central place at the Oscar table next year.
Amy Adams plays an art gallery owner (perfect Yuppies In Peril job) who perceives a veiled threat from her ex-husband (Jake Gyllenhaal) when she reads his new novel manuscript. The kinds of thrillers we're celebrating here benefit to no end from a stylish look and feel, and that is one thing we can rely upon Tom Ford to deliver. I couldn't be more excited for this film.
It's nice to have you back, Yuppies In Peril movies.