Edgar Wright’s style of cinema has become quite unmistakable over the years thanks to his masterful world-building, musical influence, and free-flowing stories that are brimming with style and humour. The director’s latest venture, Last Night in Soho, offers audiences a large dose of his trademark style, but it is also a departure for the filmmaker as he tones back the comedy and substitutes it with a heavy dose of horror in present-day/‘60s London. Although this is in many ways a beautiful showcase of Wright’s fascination with the ‘60s, it also delivers a poignant message on our longing for the past. Last Night in Soho sparkles thanks to Wright’s ambitious aspirations for the film’s visuals and the talented cast led by Thomasin McKenzie and Anya Taylor-Joy. However, while McKenzie’s character effortlessly slides into the past, the film, unfortunately, doesn’t possess that same smoothness throughout.
Last Night in Soho tells the story of Eloise (McKenzie), a young aspiring fashion designer obsessed with the 1960s, who moves from Cornwall to Soho to study at the London College of Fashion. Soon, though, Eloise finds she can transport back to the ‘60s, where she lives and watches the life of Sandie (Taylor-Joy), a young lady hoping to be the next superstar singer. What first turns out to be a dream scenario for our protagonist quickly turns into a nightmare as Sandie’s life, her supposed perfect man, Jack (Matt Smith), is much darker and disastrous than she could ever believe.
The audience hoping for another classic Edgar Wright film will be thrilled as the film opens with the ‘Wright’ approach. The British director’s projects often become musicals, and at the very beginning of this film, we are treated to Eloise dancing to a ‘60s track in her newspaper dress while imitating Audrey Hepburn with the iconic long cigarette holder. Not long after, we’re given a glimpse of Eloise’s mother, who is dead, as well as seeing Eloise’s fear upon arriving in London due to a cab driver and various other characters. It’s a beautiful nod to the city, the ‘60s, as well as highlighting Wright’s knack for brilliant visual storytelling and his ability to plant all the necessary narrative seeds without much dialogue.
Last Night in Soho’s cast, which includes Diana Rigg and Terence Stamp, all deliver excellent performances, but the film is undeniably stolen by the brilliance of its two young stars. McKenzie and Taylor-Joy are a beautiful contrast to one another, which is particularly highlighted at the beginning as McKenzie’s wide-eyed stare shows the magnitude and horror of London. Whereas Taylor-Joy bursts onto our screen in the glamorous ‘60s setting wearing an equally glamorous dress with an air of elegance and confidence that Eloise admires and wants. However, when called upon, the two actors effortlessly become one as the character of Sandie, adding to the style, and later, the horror of this story. Not a scene goes by where you don’t find yourself being drawn in by a glance or small line of dialogue from them.
Although the horror project has two tremendous actors leading the charge, the film’s stunning visuals captured by cinematographer Chung-hoon Chung is arguably its most captivating element. A perfect illustration of this is when Eloise first enters the ‘60s, and alongside the incredible production designs, there are brilliant shots like when Sandie first dances with Jack, and as the camera moves along with the dance, McKenzie and Taylor-Joy consistently trade places. In addition to this, there are more horror-Esq shots of Eloise watching Sandie within a mirror. These creative shots that are enhanced by costumes, music, and incredible lighting are so stunning that the visuals eventually become a crutch for the film to rely on a little too much.
London itself becomes a character in this story, another specialty of Wright, as the city creates an ambiance, both good and bad, to fit the film’s direction. The story effectively transitions into a horror, but it’s shortly after this shift that Last Night in Soho’s momentum stalls. It’s here the story runs out of ideas, and the film becomes more enamoured with its playful shots, which is coincidentally a similar problem in screenwriter Krysty Wilson-Cairns’ 1917. Eloise and the story just end up going round in circles both literally and figuratively, and while the visuals are still captivating, they slowly start to lose their impact.
The creativity and glamour of the presentation in Wright’s film is still able to captivate audiences even when the narrative is lacking in substance, but, unfortunately, the story’s lack of depth means the truly effective scares are also scarce. This again means this psychological horror feels like it’s plodding along without a clear direction until the final act reignites its original spark.
Last Night in Soho’s terrific climax offers a brilliant twist alongside the genuine feeling of fear and intrigue, as well as effectively hammering home the story’s underlying message of not glamorising the past because, as Eloise says, London can be “a bad place.” Ultimately, while it’s clearly not on par with some of Wright’s past films, Last Night in Soho’s daring and admirable approach, performances, and tributes to the ‘60s makes it an engaging watch.
Last Night in Soho hits cinemas on Friday, October 29th.