Overall thoughts on the movie
I watched the movie soon after finishing the book, and overall, I think it does have some good moments but ultimately is unsatisfying and rather uneven.
I thought it had some good performances (primarily from Emily Blunt as Rachel and Allison Janney as a police officer investigating the missing person case), and it did have moments that were suitably suspenseful and creepy. The pacing was also pretty solid. It’s nearly 2 hours long but didn’t feel like it and kept my attention the whole time. However, the problems I had with the ending in the book were amplified in the movie adaptation, and some additional problems are introduced with the film. But we’ll get to that in a minute.
In regard to changes in the movie, the main things I noticed were that the movie makes an attempt to make Rachel much more respectable than she was in the book and that the internal monologue aspect of the book, while preserved, is significantly abbreviated. In some ways, these changes worked in tandem, though I don’t believe either was successful.
I’ve noticed that film adaptations often will make characters more likable and/or easier to relate to than they are on the page. Even if I don’t agree, I can understand the reasoning, that people may not necessarily be interested in shelling out money to watch someone they don’t like.
For this particular adaptation, I noticed that Rachel’s alcoholism–and especially the harrowing consequences of it–are largely omitted. I’m assuming this change was to make the character easier for the average audience members to relate to.
I get that. The scenes involving her drunken vomiting episodes were not necessarily something I wanted to see re-enacted onscreen, but I do think that lessening the extent of her alcoholism significantly nullifies the impact of her blackouts in relation to the plot, which is counter intuitive since it was a major aspect of the story.
As well as Emily Blunt did in the role of depicting a seriously troubled woman, it was hard to see her as seriously afflicted with alcoholism and blackouts when the movie never really detailed her condition beyond some embarrassing outbursts.
The movie’s attempt to preserve the internal monologue, which I found one of the more fascinating aspects of the book, is through voice-overs and conversations with other characters. I think internal monologue is one of the hardest aspects of a book to translate to the screen, so it doesn’t necessarily bother me when it is omitted. With this particular story, though, it was such a fundamental part of the story that I wondered how successful the filmmakers would be in transferring it over or telling the story by ignoring it.
To that end, I don’t think the voice-overs/added conversations were necessarily a bad solution, but the conversations made Rachel a much more open and social character than she is in the book. I thought her isolation in the original story fed into her paranoia, neurosis, and panic. Making her more connected with the outside world does make her seem more normal but also much less vulnerable and pathetic, which then makes some of her actions make less sense than they did in the book.
Overall, I’d say these changes probably made her a more sympathetic character, but I don’t think that made her more interesting. It also doesn’t help that some of these voice-overs and conversations were often clumsily handled in the movie and ultimately seemed superfluous since they simply reminded the viewer of something that was then shown in flashback. I suspect that just picking the flashback or the voice-over would have been more successful than using both for certain scenes.
Another change that I think was ultimately unsuccessful was how quickly so many plot points were revealed. I suppose the filmmakers may have been trying to ensure they captured the audience’s attention, but I think it just telegraphed the surprise ending too much and also deflated a lot of the story’s tension.
One thing that I enjoyed about the book was the slow reveal as characters were gradually unmasked. Even when I didn’t find the reveals very convincing, I could usually see where some of the groundwork had been laid for them.
In the movie, though, secrets that were revealed at the end of the book came about midway through and often with little preamble or without much elaboration on them. So, what had been a disturbing, if not entirely logical, turn in the book often just seemed like a random, ridiculous revelation onscreen.
I would be curious to compare notes with someone who only watched the movie since I could only follow some of the plot points toward the end because I had read the book and recognized what the filmmakers were trying to convey. Not sure I would have been able to do that without some prior context, though.
The additional downside to this is stuff that just seemed mildly odd or unsuccessful in the book was rendered unintentionally hilarious in the movie–at least to me–and I spent a good part of the last 30-40 minutes laughing uproariously at things that made me feel like a bad person for finding funny. Fortunately, the internet tells me other people had the same reaction and that makes me feel better about myself.
I found the book a fairly entertaining but not entirely successful thriller. The movie, on the other hand, was a very uneven experience, though not one without its moments. In this particular case of book vs. movie, I’m going to have to side with the book.
Certainly, if there’s one thing I’ve learned from the dual experience of reading this book and watching this movie, it is that blinds and/or curtains are a sound investment. . . . 🙂
Recommended reading for those who enjoy Gillan Flynn, Fiona Barton’s The Widow, and Sophie Hannah’s The Other Woman’s House.
Recommended viewing for those who enjoyed Gone Girl and Fatal Attraction.
To learn more about either of these items, please visit our online catalog at this link. The movie was just released on DVD, so you could be one of the first to check it out!
Have you read this book or watched this movie? What are your thoughts on adaptations? What are some of your favorite adaptations? Tell us in the comments!