Director: Edgar Wright
Starring: Thomasin McKenzie, Anya Taylor-Joy, Matt Smith, Michael Ajao, Terence Stamp, Diana Rigg
Run Time: 116 mins
Last Night In Soho is a psychological horror from director Edgar Wright that represents a departure for him in that it mostly foregoes his comedic roots. Wright is most notable for directing the Cornetto trilogy, Scott Pilgrim Vs The World and the excellent Baby Driver, as well as a documentary, The Sparks Brothers, earlier this year. Wright has consistently proved an impressive cineliteracy in his filmography and his latest continues the trend where he is clearly influenced by 1960s British cinema.
Rising star Thomasin McKenzie plays Eloise, a budding fashion designer who lives with her grandmother in Redruth, Cornwall, who achieves the grades to study fashion design at her preferred university in London. She is excited about making the move to the Big Smoke, although her grandmother is weary over her mental wellbeing. In the past, Eloise has seen her mother’s ghost in mirrors, who had committed suicide in her childhood. Eloise gets off to an uncomfortable start in London. She doesn’t get on well with her flatmates and finds herself cruelly isolated amongst the students, unable to socially fit in. She decides to move into a top-floor bedsit belonging to the elderly Ms Collins. The landlord has a strict big upfront deposit and ‘no boys at night’ policy. Once Eloise moves in, she starts to have vivid dreams of Sandie (Anya Taylor-Joy), a young woman in the 1960s who enters a West End nightclub hoping to make a career as a singer but she has to fend off numerous advances from piggish men. Sandie attracts the attention of Jack (Matt Smith), who helps her ignite her career but his intentions are not as honest as they originally seem. The line between fantasy and reality start to blur and Eloise starts to experience horrors in her everyday life.
Last Night In Soho is another sharp and entertaining piece from Edgar Wright. It is meticulously crafted and is bursting with nostalgic nods to various 1960s iconography. Wright is clearly in love with the era, from the period correct posters of Thunderball to the decor in the sleazy but dazzling clubs of Soho that Sandie finds herself in. In many ways, this feels like Wright’s most personal film. There are some good twists in the plot that keep the story fresh and the last act takes the story in an interesting and satisfying direction. The film is interestingly a Giallo horror with its macabre murder mystery, hallucinatory quality and visual aesthetic. The Giallo sub-genre is beginning to make a comeback after a long period of dormancy with Wright’s film and also last month’s Malignant.
After dazzling in Leave No Trace, Jojo Rabbit and Old, Thomasin McKenzie puts in another excellent performances in her young career as the vulnerable Eloise. The film constantly keeps the audience on its toes as we question if the horrors she is witnessing is down to mental degradation or external forces. Diana Rigg puts in a barnstorming performance as Mrs Collins in what is sadly her final film role. There is also a notable extended cameo from Terence Stamp, who is clearly having fun. Despite being prominently billed, Anya Taylor Joy is solid as Sandie but she isn’t given that much to do in terms of acting range and acts as more of a vessel for McKenzie to react off. There is also a sincere performance by Michael Ajao, a fellow student of Eloise who takes a romantic interest in her.
The original score by Steven Price and musical choices are inspired and mostly mesh well with the events being portrayed on-screen. Wright’s films have always had a musical quality choreographed to the action and this continues the trend. The film is handsomely shot by Chung Chung-hoon, although it’s not as showy stylistically as some of his other works, particularly his collaborations with fellow Korean director Park Chan-Wook.
Not everything works in the film. The contrast between the 1960s and the present day can be quite jarring in its tonal shifts and the mirroring between Eloise and Sandie isn’t always coherent in how Eloise experiences Sandie in her dream-like state. When the film leans into its horror elements more in the second half, it doesn’t always work as the ghosts that Eloise experiences aren’t particularly well realised visually and Wright doesn’t attempt to build tension or even try to scare audiences – the lucid hauntings and gore are meant to be what is frightening rather than what isn’t portrayed on-screen.
Although uneven, there is a lot to admire in Last Night In Soho and it wildly succeeds in its story and the warmth that it brings to the 1960s of Wright’s vision. This is a really solid film to add to Wright’s back catalogue, even if it represents a departure from his comedic works. It makes a convincing argument for Giallo horror which the film revitalises, although between this and Malignant, Malignant is the better film in that it takes more risks and has a mind-blowing twist to its story. There is still lots to admire in Last Night In Soho and I can’t wait to see what genre Wright tries to tackle next.