Director Edgar Wright may be best known for his comedies with Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, but – similar to Jordan Peele – he obviously loves horror and can work well within the genre.
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Anyone who’s seen the final act of Shaun of the Dead knows this, but unfortunately, his knack for this kind of stuff is overlooked.
Lucky for him and his most ardent fans, Wright gets to go full tilt into horror tropes, formula, and its dreamy surrealism with Last Night in Soho. Though Wright does hit a a few, mostly narrative, speed bumps along the way of the film’s acid trip-esque adventure, he does so with loads of style and nostalgia.
Still, there’s a lot about this film that will divide people.
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As the film opens, Eloise, or Ellie for short (Thomasin McKenzie), has achievesd her dream of moving to London to become a fashion designer.
However, things at her school dorm quickly get too rowdy for her liking, leading her to move into a rented room that used to belong to a singer with similar dreams who was forced into prostitution named Sandy (Anya Taylor-Joy).
Sandy’s old place is quiet and would feel like home if not for the fact that Ellie is a nascent clairvoyant with vivid dreams who starts seeing Sandy and her tragic past in detail, even interacting with the phantoms of the 1960s in her waking life.
Subsequently, as these demons of the past and the current year collide, Ellie is thrown into a decades-old murder mystery only she can and must solve, no matter the cost.
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Horror can be an explicitly feminist genre, and so it is in Last Night in Soho. I wouldn’t be surprised if the pitch for this movie was “Let’s go back to the 60s, but not in the sense that they were ‘the good old days’. They weren’t simpler or more innocent times, especially not for women, so let’s show people that.”
And, boy, Wright leans heavily into the theme of toxic masculinity.
Most men in the film, both past and present – even Matt Smith (who plays a pimp) and Terence Stamp (who serves only as a red herring) – are creepy, predatory, or ignoble to some degree.
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For example, in one particularly contrived instance, a cab driver makes Ellie’s first night in London uncomfortable through his comments and lack of social cues, so she flees into a grocery store waiting for him to drive off.
However, other than this one moment, Ellie is seen pretty confidently walking the streets day and night. Further, no one else is picked up by a strange taxi, least of all by a driver who is never to be seen again.
One male, Ellie’s love interest John (Michael Ajao), stands out as the sensitive nice guy with no bad motives, but his short and slim stature is evocative of a ‘beta male’. Yet, despite usually waiting for permission and doing what he’s told, John constantly puts his life in danger by playing the hero and swooping in to help Ellie.
Wright tries to offer balance by showing the two-faced nature of virtue signaling through the behavior of Ellie’s catty dorm roommates (they even throw the word “brave” around), but this theme comes and goes without being dwelled on thoughtfully.
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No Greater Joy
The best part of Last Night in Soho is its performances. As Sandy, Anya Taylor-Joy steals every scene she’s in, proving that she really should get Oscar consideration for Best Supporting Actress. She’s not a bad singer either.
Her character arc is firmly fleshed out with a clear beginning, middle,and end which include ups, downs, and conflict you won’t see coming. It’s an interesting-if-familiar story of payback and the refusal of sins past to stay buried, but all the gray shaded layers of Sandy gel in a way that presents her as a a complicated person with no easy answers forthcoming in life.
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Joy is good casting, and honestly, Soho is well-acted all around. Thomasin McKenzie is a very likable lead, and though she might be a tad overwrought, you feel for her on her journey to understand her ghostly visions – especially when she comes to Sandy’s rescue in vain.
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The camera work and the collision of time periods really help the film’s aesthetics, but the visual effects look cheap in particular spots.
Additionally, while a genuine surprise, the unspoken twist – that the killer is right under our noses the whole time and not who you think it is – feels like something we’ve seen director Dario Argento (Suspiria (Suspiria (1971)) do a dozen times before. To that end, allusions to his corpus and color palate are obvious and will please both Wright’s fans as well as Giallo cinephiles.
Last Night in Soho is executed better than Halloween Kills in its reverence and nostalgia for horror, but if you’re somebody who can’t stand sitting through the woke bits I mentioned, you best steer clear.
- Anya Taylor-Joy and Thomasin McKenzie’s strong performances.
- Colorfully good-looking London mise-en-scene.
- Some real surprises.
- As a Giallo homage, it’s predictable when put into perspective.
- Uncompromising misandry as a plot device will turn people off.
- Terence Stamp is misused.