After a lengthy COVID induced delay, Edgar Wright’s eighth feature Last Night in Soho is here. The trajectory of Wright’s career has been interesting from his initial breakthrough with the cult success of the BBC show Spaced (1999-2001), to his further collaborations with Simon Pegg and Nick Frost with the Three Flavours Cornetto trilogy (Sean of the Dead (2004), Hot Fuzz (2007), and The World’s End (2013)), and his blockbuster heist/juke-box musical Baby Driver. While his clever and frenetic use of montage, a rhythmic matching between his pop soundtracks and editing, and a keen understanding of genre conventions and film history demonstrated his prowess as a filmmaker, his earlier films were considered ‘buddy’ comedy films. While his peers and committed fans have always voiced appreciation for him as a virtuosic director, only in recent years (especially after the success of Baby Driver, which relies less on comedy and genre pastiche and operates as an innovative action film with a touch of humor) has the perception of Wright as an “auteur” (for whatever that term is worth) generally emerged.
Now, in 2021, arrives Last Night in Soho, his first foray into outright horror/psychological thriller, further distancing Wright from comedy. The film follows Eloise “Ellie” Turner (Thomasin McKenzie), a wide-eyed young woman from the English countryside who dreams of becoming a fashion designer in the big city. Her aspirations become more tangible after she is accepted to the London College of Fashion. On top of her interest in fashion, Ellie is completely infatuated with the “Swinging London” scene of the 1960s. Compared to the seemingly mundane existence of Gen Z, the glitz and glamour of 1960s Soho represents a world Ellie desperately wishes she could have experienced. After finding out her dorm roommate is a nightmare of a prima donna, Ellie decides to rent a room from Ms. Collins (the late-great Diana Rigg giving a wonderful final performance) in Goodge Place. While staying in the flat, Ellie begins to have vivid “dreams” that transport her back to Swinging London where she shares in the experiences of Sandie (Anya Taylor-Joy), a confident lounge singer. From there, the infatuation Ellie has with the past transitions from intoxicating glamor towards something far more sinister; as the seedy underbelly of London rears its ugly head, Ellie’s present is thrown into grave danger.
Here, Wright at his most clever and virtuosic. As Ellie experiences Sandie’s journey, Wright visually represents their connection through mirrors as the two actresses mimic and swap positions in impressive song and dance sequences (done primarily without the use of CGI). The initial dream sequences are cinematically irresistible; the vivacious music, impeccable style, and glamorous sheen of mid-60s London nightlife fully intoxicate both Ellie and the audience. The reality though, is that the city––both in the past and present––has a foundation of sexual abuse, violence, and lasciviousness. Wright has talked extensively about how he and co-writer Krysty Wilson-Cairns tried to write a cautionary tale about the dangers of over-romanticizing the past. I would say they mostly achieved that goal, as Ellie (who can be seen as an analogue for Wright himself) bears witness to how Sandie’s dreams are shattered as the realities of a misogynistic society bear down on her (realities that the film claims is still inherent in city life today).
The film is at its weakest when trying to ramp up the tension and danger in the third act. The connection that Ellie and Sandie experience through time, the supernatural forces of evil, and Ellie’s mental health (the film establishes early on that Ellie suffers from a non-specified mental illness and that after her mother commited suicide due to her own mental condition, Ellie has been visited bt her mother’s ghost on multiple occasions) never fully coalesce into one clear framework. For most of the movie, the audience is left wondering about the reliability of our narrator, whether the supernatural exists, and if Ellie is even in any actual danger for much of the movie. These shortcomings make the finale of the film less satisfying than it could have been. That being said, this film is an absolute joy to watch as Wright crafts an astonishing recreation and examination of 60s London while further experimenting and challenging himself as a filmmaker. I can’t wait to see what he does next.
Rating: I N D Y
MichaelOross is a Senior in the College studying English and Film Studies