The pursuit of blind nostalgia and shimmering stardom
Forget all your troubles and go downtown to Soho
Last Night in Soho
Directed by Edgar Wright
Screenplay by Edgar Wright and Krysty Wilson-Cairns
Starring Thomasin McKenzie, Anya Taylor-Joy, Matt Smith, Michael Ajao
Rated R, Playing Oct. 29
“When you’re alone and life is making you lonely / You can always go downtown.” A haunting melody, the weight of which is felt throughout much of Last Night in Soho, captures the innocent attraction to an idealized foreign city or era in time where dreams come true and everything goes as planned. Director Edgar Wright capitalizes on this naivete to create a new twist on the thriller genre. Welcome to Soho, where your brightest desires become your darkest nightmares.
Eloise (Thomasin McKenzie) is an amateur fashion designer living in rural England with a longing for the ’60s. An acceptance letter from the London College of Fashion takes her to London, inserting her into the frenzy of an urban environment and its people. She eventually finds her way to an old bedsit in Soho, where vintage furnishings are the first signs of familiarity and comfort since her arrival in the city. The room’s flashing neon lights and dusty pink walls become a launchpad for Eloise as she finds her nights filled with adventures to the ’60s through the life of an aspiring songstress, Sandie (Anya Taylor-Joy).
An obvious duality exists between the two lead characters. Where Eloise is brunette, Sandie is blonde. Where Eloise is timid and uncertain, Sandie is self-assured and determined. Where Eloise backs down, Sandie marches forward. Eloise sees the traits she wishes she had in Sandie, leading to an obsession that only grows as she lets her life become more and more influenced by Sandie’s stardom and history, fulfilling her dreams of living in the ’60s. The two girls are not so dissimilar, though. Both are ultimately betrayed by their own passions: one burned by her yearnings for the past, the other scarred by her climb to the spotlight, presenting an overarching cautionary tale in the dangers of an alluring appearance, a danger that the film itself falls victim to.
Visually, Last Night in Soho is absolutely stunning. It is perhaps one of the most beautiful films of this year. The immersive cinematography and flashing colors create some brilliant transitions between the past and the present. One minute we’re in the present, then with a wave of neon lit bedsheets, we’re back in the ’60s. Additionally, the cast’s performances are the strongest aspects of the whole production. Having never performed in a thriller or horror before, McKenzie captures Eloise’s vulnerabilities perfectly, creating an effective mixture of hopefulness and desperation. As the film progresses, Eloise is driven closer and closer to a tipping point, and McKenzie toes that line extremely well. Taylor-Joy, a seasoned actress in the genre, never ceases to impress with each character she takes on, and her performance as Sandie is no different. She presents a masterclass on the subtleties of elegance, fear, and confidence and is simply marvelous. Taylor-Joy adds layers of complexity to this character, always shrouded her in some aura of mystery or intrigue.
Last Night in Soho clearly excels in the glamour of its surface-level appearance but, disappointingly, falls short in its story and characters. The storyline is shaky at best, with some acts being stronger than others, and ventures into predictable and cliché territory. “Country girl feels like a fish out of water in the big city and is looked down upon by her wealthy peers” is certainly not an original storyline, nor does Wright try to flesh it out more. There seems to be a missed opportunity to create something more compelling by delving deeper into the characters themselves, deeper than a narrative about blind nostalgia or chasing fame. Themes of mental health or the seedy underbelly of the entertainment industry could have been further explored, but instead Wright chooses to rely too much upon jumpscares and phantoms to evoke some sense of fear in the audience when the most terrifying things are those grounded in reality.
For the sensory experience alone, Last Night in Soho is certainly worth a viewing. The story itself is a unique approach to the thriller/horror genre, but there is much left to be desired. Regardless, it is a film best left unspoiled, so whatever happens in Soho stays in Soho.