Last Night in Soho, 2021.
Directed by Edgar Wright.
Starring Thomasin McKenzie, Anya Taylor-Joy, Matt Smith, Terence Stamp, Diana Rigg, Synnøve Karlsen, Rita Tushingham, Lisa McGrillis, Michael Jibson, Andrew Bicknell, and Michael Ajao.
An aspiring fashion designer is mysteriously able to enter the 1960s where she encounters a dazzling wannabe singer. But the glamour is not all it appears to be and the dreams of the past start to crack and splinter into something darker.
Edgar Wright has never written or directed the types of horror movies aiming for scares and unease until Last Night in Soho (co-written alongside 1917‘s Krysty Wilson-Cairns), so it only makes sense that he is not necessarily in a rush to get to the gory, disturbing details. Instead, the script is admirably concerned with establishing the character of Eloise (Thomasin McKenzie, once again demonstrating a great deal of range). Taking place in the present day, she happens to be fixated on anything to do with 1960s London (her bedroom walls are plastered with music-related posters, giving the filmmaker an angle to insert an eclectic licensed soundtrack), but more than anything wishes to be a fashion designer.
Eloise is introduced wearing her own handmade clothes, whimsically dancing in her room. There’s also a hint of the supernatural as she seems to be able to see her dead mother in the mirror’s reflection. With that in mind, Eloise is undoubtedly ostracized, causing her well-meaning but overbearing grandmother Peggy (Rita Tushingham ) to not exactly be thrilled about her getting into a prestigious London fashion design college. It also doesn’t help that Eloise’s mother also moved to London before killing herself following a mental breakdown.
Thomasin McKenzie plays these early scenes with such happy-go-lucky spirited enthusiasm and a wide smile that it’s almost too much. Although, not in the wrong way, mind you. Eloise is a sheltered young adult naïve to the actual dangers of the world, something she, unfortunately, gets a crash course in immediately upon arriving in London as a lecherous cab driver without solicitation remarks that her legs are sexy enough for modeling. Thomasin McKenzie also brings a heightened radiance to the character, quickly investing viewers into hoping things get better once she meets her dorm roommate. Without saying too much, they are nasty, two-faced women that relentlessly bully her behind her back.
Brought to tears over these mean-spirited barbs about her oddball personality, mother’s suicide, and good girl behavior (her peers seem to only want the rowdy and raucous college experience without the education part), Eloise conveniently notices an ad to rent out a room from Miss Collins (a terrific performance from the now-deceased Diana Rigg ). Despite demands such as two payments of rent upfront, no men allowed upstairs in the room, and bluntly throwing out there that the last several tenants have packed up their bags and fled in the middle of the night for some inexplicable reason, Eloise is quick to jump all over the opportunity.
It turns out that Eloise is not only getting more than she bargained for; she’s getting a fantasy experience she has probably dreamt of several times over; whenever she goes to sleep, she is transported to 1960s London, signified by noteworthy giveaways as Sean Connery James Bond film Thunderball on the marquee and retro vehicles. The caveat is that Eloise is mostly observing aspiring singer Sandie (Anya Taylor-Joy) through impressively stylistic mirrored reflections across various types of glass, indicating that Edgar Wright is once again up to something ambitiously imaginative. Bursting with confidence, Sandie strikes up a friendship with the knightly Jack (Matt Smith), seemingly on her way to someday performing in some of the hottest clubs. The out-of-this-timeline experience is enough to inspire and instill some self-esteem into Eloise. She promptly decides to dye her hair blonde, doing anything she can think of to resemble her newfound idol physically (including embracing a hickey that has transferred over to the present day, feeling more in tune and optimistic about her beauty).
It’s not a spoiler to say that as Eloise eagerly winds down her days early to venture back into observing the past, the situation with Sandie develops into a tragedy centered on sexual abuse. Even in the present day, creepy stalkers seem to be following around Eloise. Suffice to say, there are pieces of a puzzle between past and present the Eloise has to fit together, with each subsequent journey into the past offering up more suffering that begins to take its toll on her in the present day. Considering Last Night in Soho is a supremely stylish flick relishing in details of both periods, with Edgar Wright toying with lighting techniques in nearly every scene and progressively pushing the story further into nightmare territory, it’s easy to sit back and enjoy it as it unfolds even if substance and characters start to fall by the wayside.
There’s also a love interest for Eloise, a fellow student (Michael Ajao) who accepts her strange behavior at every turn with absurd reasoning, existing as a total nothing character that is made all the more frustrating considering he’s the only Black one. Their developing friendship rarely feels organic, as any time he shows up, it’s more comedic than anything. Come to think of it, there’s also not much to the Sandie character besides a series of absurd reveals that jump the shark for something that is still firmly grounded in reality during its first two acts, even with phasing in and out of another generation. Edgar Wright spends the majority of the film building to pure horror (and assuredly accomplishes that with numerous striking visuals from a disturbing murder to grotesque ghouls invading reality with terrorizing symbolic meaning) before making a last-minute into a silly and campy bloodbath.
Yet, Last Night in Soho remains consistently intriguing as a lavish visual exercise asking for its central actors to morph and evolve the longer it goes on. The obvious parallel for Eloise is that she is being driven to the brink of madness as her mother once was, something Thomasin McKenzie is brilliant at slowly escalating. The genre mash-up and shifts in tone don’t always flow, but nearly every frame here has something worth ogling or sees Edgar Wright challenging himself as a flashy filmmaker.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at [email protected]
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