Tom Jolliffe looks at the exciting prospects for Last Night in Soho, and a potential leap up the pantheon for Edgar Wright…
Edgar Wright has been delivering nuggets of fried gold for over 20 years now. A rambunctious industry upstart got his start young, and had been in the game even before breaking out with the ever enjoyable sitcom, Spaced. His cohesion with Simon Pegg, and additionally, Nick Frost, spread into his movies. For his first two outings, they stayed together, delivering a perfect comedy/horror blend in Shaun of the Dead. It was light, pure entertainment, and filled with quotable lines as any fan of the aforementioned Spaced would come to expect. That love of film also shone through in a film laced with homage and references (as Spaced of course was). It continued with Hot Fuzz which turned its gaze onto the action genre (with a dash of The Wicker Man thrown in among others).
Wright by now had an association with enjoyable romps, with enough deft skill to also make you care. It was the mark of a film-maker with an assured vision, even if there was a sense it was still a little bit too reliant on creating a gumbo mix of other peoples ideas. Still, the rhythmic editing and bluntly playful transitions certainly had an increasingly ‘Wright’ feel. Many sitcoms and indie genre film directors out of the UK were beginning to riff on Edgar’s style, but never as effectively. Like Tarantino, his unmistakable cinematic passion was his greatest strength (and to some, perhaps biggest weakness). The difference being that Tarantino swung big from the off and batted out two masterpieces back to back that were wholly distinctive. The films also travelled exceptionally well. Fuzz and Shaun (and the latter The World’s End, which completed the Cornetto Trilogy) certainly appealed to US audiences with a penchant for absurdist humour and British comedy, but did occasionally leave some sections scratching their heads. That’s par for the course with British hits in fairness.
Baby Driver took an all American neo-noir story, paying nods to The Driver among an array of other films from the 70’s and 80’s. Though Scott Pilgrim vs The World undoubtedly garnered a cult audience, as all Wright’s work has thus far, it carried with it that almost incessant quirk that isn’t always appreciated. It has found a particular boost in fandom over the last few years in fact. Baby Driver was in some ways safer though. A star studded cast, around likeable young (and not hugely known at the time) leads. Laden with car-chases, a fairly unique protagonist and then the addition of the music. It’s a meticulously planned soundtrack movie with pitch perfect editing that plays through almost every driving (car or not) scene which propels the film. It once again showcased Wright’s gift for an auteur’s touch, with perfect unity between his shot choices and edits (in unity with said soundtrack). The film saw Wright’s forever impishness in abundance but with a certain step up in maturity as a filmmaker too.
Somewhere in the mix, the Ant-Man debacle took away Wright’s stab at the mega arena where Disney et al reside. That said, many film-makers have found their creativity subdued by that level of studio film, and indeed this was the case for Wright/Ant-Man. That said, the films best sequence, a Thomas the Tank Engine chase, still feels inherently Wright (whether it is or not).
That brings us to Last Night In Soho. A film shrouded in a degree of mystery since its announcement, aside from knowing it would involve Wright delving into some horror again and incorporating time travel. If anyone follows Edgar, his social media has been perpetually littered with the following question, “When is the trailer for Last Night in Soho out?” The token response of ‘soon’ eventually giving way to the appearance of the trailer. So what can be said about it?
Another stellar and interesting cast for starters. A perfect mix of long established with rising stars. It’s also blessed with having Anya Taylor-Joy on board, who is the current star du jour. Always sensational, it promises to be another fine role for her as the altar ego of our leading lady, Thomasine Mackenzie (also in great form recently) who finds herself able to travel into the swinging 60’s, where she inhabits a Cabaret Singer (Joy). Wright also doesn’t cast stars for the sake of stars, he casts people who will fit roles, and work well opposite the other cast members. He casts for chemistry, so we can likely expect more of the same here.
We’d expect nothing less than a litany of cinematic reference here either, in a film that will perhaps play like a melding of Midnight in Paris, 60’s/70’s giallo and Polanski’s 60’s horror films (particularly Repulsion). Visually, Wright beautifully channels Bava and Argento in a film dazzlingly adorned with colour. It also promises to focus on the increasingly fragmenting psyche of its lead as this time jumping quirk will inevitably have side effects/consequences (becoming haunted by Joy for one). Hell, we’ll throw in the psychological complexity and Hour of the Wolf horror of Bergman to boot (with some definite shades of Persona too). There’s enough to suggest this could be the new cult horror film of the last few years, and that psychological focus is something I’ve always loved in horror like Repulsion, The Shining, Possession or more recently The Lighthouse and Mandy. It then becomes less about monsters and scares, because there’s nothing more frightening than the power of the mind to take control away from us.
Something about the drawn out approach to getting this one made, and the time and care taken not to fall foul of harsh deadlines or studio interference (you’d hope) suggests there’s no shortage of passion from Wright here. He’s never lacked it. He’s never coasted, but he’s been happy sometimes to entertain with aplomb, and that’s it. Here, I think he wants to dig his claws in, in an entirely different way, to offer out a film with enough reverence to horror history to please long term fans, and enough of a dynamic and fresh skill in making it seem like a new recipe, that younger adult audiences will lap it up. A lot is pointing toward something special, so all that may hold it back is coherence. Will the loftier ideas fail to translate or alienate the audience? Will it have too many individual references to be deemed unique enough for cult fandom? Hereditary’s legacy has already ebbed away a little quicker than expected, given it owed a little too much to Rosemary’s Baby and just lost the final act a little. We’ll see soon, but this is a big screen event. We might well see the film that sparks the most fervent adoration of the year, with feverish cults of fans awaiting something like this. We might just see Edgar Wright’s masterpiece.
Last Night in Soho sees Edgar Wright directing a cast that includes Anya Taylor-Joy (The Queen’s Gambit), Thomasin McKenzie (Leave No Trace), Matt Smith (Doctor Who), Michael Ajao (Attack the Block), Diana Rigg (Game of Thrones), Terence Stamp (The Adventures of Priscila, Queen of the Desert), Rita Tushingham (My Name is Lenny) and Synnøve Karlsen (Medici).
Tom Jolliffe is an award winning screenwriter and passionate cinephile. He has a number of films out on DVD/VOD around the world and several releases due out in 2021/2022, including, Renegades (Lee Majors, Danny Trejo, Michael Pare, Tiny Lister, Nick Moran, Patsy Kensit, Ian Ogilvy and Billy Murray), Crackdown, When Darkness Falls and War of The Worlds: The Attack (Vincent Regan). Find more info at the best personal site you’ll ever see here.