By Reed Ripley
Last Night in Soho
Directed by: Edgar Wright
Horror/Psychological Thriller | R | 1 hr 56 min
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Although not quite the burst of originality and flair that gave Edgar Wright his deserved reputation, Last Night in Soho is a well-executed spin on psychological horror whose star performances elevate it beyond what it probably should be.
The film follows Eloise (Thomasin McKenzie), an aspiring fashion designer from the English countryside who is accepted into the London School of Fashion. The big city is a big place, though, and growing anxiety about her classmates’ derision for her small-town upbringing (and hand-made clothes), and the weight of following in the footsteps of a mother who committed suicide trying to pursue the same dreams, makes her question her decision to go. As an escape, Eloise moves out of the dorm and into a side-street apartment, but the anxiety only grows as she begins seeing nightly visions of 60s-era London through the eyes of Sandie (Anya Taylor-Joy), a woman whose traumatic life starts to creep into Eloise’s waking nightmares.
On paper, this film should have been one of the crazier releases of the year, but it never quite gets there. Don’t get me wrong, there’s plenty of interesting twists, and some of the work Wright does with camerawork and color to evoke Eloise’s lucid dreams are thrilling. Particularly, whenever Eloise is in the 60s following Sandie, there’s a mirroring effect (oftentimes using actual mirrors in an ode to clever practical effects work) that creates several memorable and visually stunning sequences. Too, some of the later horror sequences are terrifying and play well off Eloise’s emotional through lines. However, in a film that facially leans so heavily on 60s psychodelia, I wish the actual substance of the film would have followed suit. It ends up being a fairly straightforward psychological thriller, which is disappointing given Wright’s propensity to deliver something you leave the theater saying, “I’ve never seen anything like that before.”
Although the execution might be somewhat bland, the two leading performances are not. McKenzie wonderfully inhabits a character that could have easily turned rote. We’ve all seen the small-town goes to big-town character before, but McKenzie really makes it her own, and the trauma and grief she’s experiencing come through beautifully paired with the traditional anxieties of moving to the city. Taylor-Joy, on the other hand, continues to single-handedly kill the myth our modern culture can’t produce Movie Stars. Her presence alone is enrapturing every time she’s on screen, and there’s an ethereal quality to the performance that echoes the character’s framing as representative of ghosts of the past.
Too, the film’s main theme is the corrosive nature of nostalgia, and it really hits home. Eloise is obsessed with the 60s, music, fashion, and all, but when she’s confronted with the era’s reality, its toxicity is overwhelming. As a good chunk of culture now is dedicated to looking at the past with rose-colored glasses, it’s a great thesis on why we should interrogate those obsessions and evaluate reality, and the past, for what it is.
There’s certainly a chance we look back on Last Night in Soho in a few years and praise it as another genre-bending triumph from Wright, much as we’ve retrospectively done with much of his filmography. But for now, it’s a solid film with flashes of brilliance that seems somewhat hesitant to embrace its freakier side.