Edgar Wright is no stranger to Canada. For admirers of his box office flop Scott Pilgrim Vs The World, many consider Wright’s 2010 Canadian odyssey to be one of the most significant Toronto-based pieces of contemporary entertainment of the late 2000’s. It was a unique blockbuster that captured various areas of the city that have now since seen the light of demolition and bankruptcy. From Honest Ed’s to casual vinyl perusing at Sonic Boom, Scott Pilgrim Vs The World is quite literally one of the most faithful Torontonian tributes to ever exist in the mainstream cultural sphere. 11 years later, it would only make sense for Wright’s latest film to premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival, given the substantial context of his prior work. Irony being, his feature Last Night in Soho is in actuality a love-letter to a completely different form of city life. Capturing the rambunctious neon-lit chaos of the claustrophobic city streets of London, Wright encapsulates the West-End nightlife in bloody-drenched cinematic form. The end result is an occasionally visually-arresting horror with a muddled intent at its crux.
On paper, Last Night in Soho seems structurally sound. The pacing is undeniably entertaining as per the usual Wright trademarks; including rapid panning and cutting for economical storytelling. Yet it’s the clear departure from his more comedic works that raises concerns. Last Night in Soho is a consistent drama, with the occasional dose of a few comedic sight gags. It opens admirably conventional, falling for the typical coming-of-age story beats of a young woman adopting to her surrounding metropolitan madness. It’s familiar yet still admirably accomplished due to Wright’s compelling direction and the commitment on screen from the key-cast. As the film ensues however, a more malicious figure begins to flourish. Instead of ghoulish spirits or demented creatures from the earth, the most horrific aspect of Wright’s latest is his attempt at capitalising on the #MeToo movement.
Where the film could have followed a Midnight in Paris (2011) trajectory as a cautionary tale on the addictive nature of nostalgia, Wright devolves his intent with a sexual-assault parable. It isn’t until the third act where the allegory becomes unbearable; a nauseatingly crass and on-the-nose social commentary with very little nuance for profundity. The key twist and surrounding red herrings fail to shock, due to a lack of self-awareness and pre-developed motives — as the film attempts to one-up its topical thematics in a sadistic game of mutilated morals. Irony being, Wright’s execution causes more harm than good. Triggering imagery —including the brutal stabbing of a young Black man and a series of shots involving a group of supernatural hands grabbing and assaulting Thomasin McKenzie’s Eloise— are not needed within the context of the narrative. Wright already has the ingredients for something far more terrifying and physiologically mind-bending behind the theatrical red curtain; if only his screenplay could have bothered to divert from the literal.
What could have succeeded as a fun horror homage and throwback to a notorious neighbourhood based in the West-End, Wright’s persistence on directing a story that isn’t even necessarily his own to tell is more than morally questionable. Even as a throwback to Giallo, Wright’s cinematic influences on screen shockingly lack the same amount of energy and determination as his other films. Not even the needle drops are particularly justified within the context of a select few sequences. It’s a great shame too, since Last Night in Soho is not only his worst film to date but also his most lifeless. A pale ghost story with the occasional moment of entertainment and thematic intent, that misses the mark in both its third-act execution and grandiose scope. But then again, lesser Wright is still better than most conventional horror films at multiplexes nowadays.