Last Night in Soho – Review

LAST NIGHT IN SOHOWhen you think of Edgar Wright, you no doubt think of pop culture references at a rate of knots; bloody slapstick; male leads. You’re probably less likely to imagine a straight up horror/thriller with a predominantly female cast. But that’s exactly what you’ll get in Last Night in Soho, an ‘anti-nostalgia’ piece about the swinging 60s in London.

Eloise ‘Ellie’ Turner (Thomasin McKenzie) lives with her gran in Cornwall. She’s an avid listener to vinyl records of Cilla Black, George Harrison and Dusty Springfield and adores vintage fashion. In order to pursue her dreams, she applies for and is accepted at a fashion college in London.

She travels to the capital – earnest and innocent – and takes up lodgings with the stern Mrs. Collins (Dame Diana Rigg). Whilst staying in her bedsit, she begins to dream of one of the room’s previous occupants. Sandie (Anya Taylor-Joy) is a beautiful and charismatic singer, hoping to make an impact on the London stage of the 1960s. But, as Ellie’s dreams take a darker turn – to the extent where she can no longer distinguish them from her waking life – what exactly is the past trying to tell her?

For a film set in the era of the mini-skirt and flower power, getting the ‘feel’ right is really important. And Last Night in Soho really does fully immerse you in the London of the 1960s. Steven Price’s score is brilliant – and if you’re not leaving the screen singing Anyone Who Had a Heart or Downtown, there really is something wrong. Anya Taylor-Joy lends her smokey vocals to a slowed-down version of the aforementioned Petula Clark hit, which lends itself perfectly to the dreamlike quality of the film.

Odile Dicks-Mireaux’s costuming is a visual treat, from scarlet red baby doll dresses to white leather boots, it all just looks perfect. Jen White’s choreography both in the crowd scenes and in the “time hopping” dance between Taylor-Joy, McKenzie and Matt Smith is really a joy to watch.

Chung-Hoon Chung, as director of photography, has created something of a Giallo-esque style for the film. The neon lights of Soho flash red and green, red and green – warning signs we have seen so many times before in everything from Vertigo to Suspiria. So much of the movement in the film feels very free flowing, constantly whirling around from the dream world to reality. It creates a very fluid feel, allowing you to lose yourself between the two worlds.

Thomasin McKenzie, who was so fierce and resilient in JoJo Rabbit, demonstrates a more vulnerable side here. She is excellent as Ellie, a young student who seems to be getting chewed up and spat back out by the city of her dreams. McKenzie is sensitive – able to connect with those who have passed on – and is left emotionally and mentally drained by the end of the film. In contrast, Anya Taylor-Joy is forward and hardened by her experiences. The pair make a very obvious contrast but both leads execute their roles very well. McKenzie is arguable given more to do, but Taylor-Joy’s sheer presence is electric.

Last Night in Soho The supporting cast – comprising of the likes of Dame Diana Rigg, Terence Stamp, Michael Ajao and Matt Smith (a man who possesses all the sexual charisma of a fart in a lift) – also do a solid job with what they are given. A lot of these roles feel a little two dimensional and on the nose but you kind of give them a pass owing to the stunning visuals.

The visuals, of course, lend themselves to the horror element of the piece. The neon and strobe lighting effects are used perfectly and the frequent sight of all those ghosts with distorted faces grabbing at and following Ellie around is really quite frightening. The ghosts – as you will find out – are key to the sexual politics of the film, which have come under a lot of scrutiny. Whilst I don’t agree with the way the film ends, It’s fair to say that Wright is simply ripping the rose-tinted glasses off our view of the past. It’s not saying all men are bad, it’s simply focusing on the many abuses that went on in the world of ‘showbiz’ at that time.

* spoilers ahead in this paragraph * Where Last Night in Soho falls down is in its third act. In an attempt to tie things up very neatly, it conversely becomes very messy. It sort of scrambles towards the finish line and – in a rather grotesque turn – renders the victim as the villain of the piece. So, despite everything you may well have enjoyed up until this point, it does leave you feeling rather shortchanged.

It also seems very hard to justify the 18 certificate the film has received in the UK, which may well hamper box office success.

Last Night in Soho is like an anti-love letter to the so-called swinging 60s. With great lead performances, moments of genuine horror and beautiful Giallo-inspired lighting, it marks a very different type of Edgar Wright film. There are several sticking points but, overall, it is a very visually exciting piece of cinema.

Last Night in Soho is now showing in UK cinemas.

Mary Munoz
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