'Last Night in Soho' is Not Your Typical Edgar Wright Delight
We review the new thriller from the madcap brain that brought us one of the greatest comic book adaptations.
I've never watched an Edgar Wright film that wasn't a damn delight. From my very first advanced screening of Shaun of the Dead (thanks to a random flyer I was handed on my college campus) to his most recent celebratory documentary, The Sparks Brothers, I've watched his films while practically vibrating in my seat. Wright's movies bounce with an incredible, infectious energy that never skips on the crushing weight of humanity but always counters it with hope, optimism, and invitation. Now, consider my surprise when I stumbled out of Last Night in Soho feeling like an utter wreck.
"That wasn't fun. That was almost miserable."
As with all Wright films, Last Night in Soho springs from the director's varied cinematic obsessions. It's dripping in slasher, Giallo, and Hammer horror. A tour through the director's influences could fill a year of rentals, and that's as much a part of the film's entertainment as anything else it's providing. Not to mention the soundtrack that stitches every frame together. Throughout the watch, I was scribbling a playlist.
Eloise (Thomasin McKenzie) packs her bags and says goodbye to grandma. When we meet her, she's buzzing with passion for sixties design, leaving her suburban home behind so she can pursue fashion in London. Immediately, she's confronted with a hatefully negging roommate, and her hopes for a bright lights, big city acceptance extinguish. Eloise's dreams are rooted in the past, and soon, so will her nightmares.
One evening, Eloise awakens within the body of Sandie (Anya Taylor-Joy). Fifty years ago, she too sought an artistic path in London, and she too found walls wherever she turned. Sandie seeks the stage, but in her pursuit of it, she meets Jack (Matt Smith), and he trades his charm for terror real quick. At first, Eloise adores living her fantasy inside Sandie, but then the ghouls come, stamping through her visions, infecting her real, waking world.
As Eloise tries to uncover Sandie's history, she's forced to confront the demons on her own timeline. McKenzie brilliantly captures the confusion and the dread pulsating through Eloise's investigation. The sheepish quality in which she initially navigates the mystery tethers our concern. She's a fluttery young thing, and when the script calls for her to absorb Sandie's more audacious personality, the switch is a jolt. McKenzie can out-Taylor-Joy Anya Taylor-Joy, and it's an unnerving transformation.
That's not to say that Anya Taylor-Joy isn't a thrill to observe. As a phantasm of sorts, she's purposefully kept at a distance. Seen through Eloise's supernatural slumberland, Sandie is more object than character. She's as much a fantasy for Eloise as she is for the predatory beasts like Jack who surround her. When the world reveals its snarl to Sandie, Eloise earns the determination to fight for her, to seek the truth of her fate, even when those answers will undoubtedly prove unsatisfying and possibly detrimental to Eloise's health.
Wright attempts a conversation around institutionalized misogyny but ultimately achieves a torturous aesthetic painfully aligned with the supposedly more misguided films that inspire him. Last Night in Soho revels in the brutal assaults put upon Sandie, and the spooky scares designed to give us a goose in our seats, come with a wretched aftertaste of real-world trauma. When the film reaches its whodunit climax, the reveal muddies the messaging even further, with the systemic villains coming off as victims themselves. What?!
Last Night in Soho features moments of nostalgic wonder. The small parts tossed toward Terence Stamp and Diana Rigg slowly build beyond their potentially gimmicky casting. Chung-hoon Chung's cinematography switches from electrically cool to sumptuously warm to Giallo-noir. The production design, set decoration, art direction, and costumes make the sixties a reality, and you fall for that decade in the same manner that Eloise does. Again, you're making a playlist while you're watching this film, and if you depart without a profound desire to revisit or discover a few classic movies, I'll call you a liar.
But, for someone expecting a confection, a genre uplift a la the Cornetto Trilogy or Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (movies that are not without troubling, often brutal humanity), Last Night in Soho will supply a shock different than the one usually promised by such grim horror movie fare. Edgar Wright provides little fun here. Last Night in Soho is an uncomfortably scary exploration, providing disturbing, possibly even confounding resolution.
Quickie Review: Last Night in Soho is a film unlike any other Edgar Wright experience, and that's going to leave me scratching my head for a bit. Beyond my expectations, the film presents an awkward and shaky challenge to the artistic industries we adore that do their business by chewing up and devouring women. I appreciate the attempt to reconcile the horror genre with its patriarchal history, but maybe Wright should have just watched Promising Young Woman instead? 6/10
Last Night in Soho opens in theaters on 10/29