Last Night in Soho, 2021.
Directed by Edgar Wright.
Starring Thomasin McKenzie, Anya Taylor-Joy, Matt Smith, Michael Ajao, Diana Rigg, Terence Stamp, Synnøve Karlsen and Rita Tushingham.
A fashion student from Cornwall moves to London and finds herself experiencing disturbing visions of a previous occupant of her bedsit room in the 1960s.
Edgar Wright loves horror and Edgar Wright loves Central London. With that in mind, it seems bizarre that he’s never made a movie about either. Wright himself appears to have noticed this particular void in his oeuvre and has decided to slash through those two birds with one stone. Last Night in Soho is a full-throated, psychological tale of terror happening amid the bustling thoroughfares of central London – streets paved with glamour, but built upon twisted, warped foundations of blood, sex and seediness of all kinds.
Into this world falls budding fashionista Eloise (Thomasin McKenzie), who is moving from rural climes to the big city for her studies – a reverse of the journey Nicholas Angel carried out at the beginning of Wright’s Hot Fuzz. Unsettled by the nocturnal antics of her roommates, she moves out of student digs and into a Goodge Street flat rented out by the rule-loving Miss Collins (Diana Rigg). That night, Eloise finds herself transported back to the 1960s. Thunderball is in the cinema, Cilla Black is performing at the hottest night spots and wannabe singer Sandie (Anya Taylor-Joy) has fallen under the spell of swaggering music mogul Jack (Matt Smith).
Wright’s gambit here is clear. London is a city of wonders and, just as the common maxim tells you to “look up” in order to find history and magic on its streets, looking down can show you the exact opposite. Beneath the veneer of wealth and showbiz is darkness of the sort that has gobbled up many who have come, Dick Whittington-style, to seek fame and fortune in the capital. Wright has a great time deploying his kinetic camerawork and musicality in recreating the neon lights of the Swinging Sixties, but allows that façade to elegantly slip in bravura sequences which highlight the macabre horrors happening within a hair’s breadth of the flowing booze and fulfilled dreams. As Rigg’s character puts it with darkly funny detachment, “someone has died in every room of every building in this whole city”.
McKenzie is every bit as brilliant as you’d expect as the wide-eyed innocent entirely unprepared for what London has to offer, even before she appears to drift through the decades. The depiction of her Cornish home as a backwards time capsule initially feels clichéd, but it proves a fitting explanation for Eloise’s love of vintage style and, specifically, her idealised perspective on the 60s. Sandie is her counterpoint in every way, with Taylor-Joy amping up every watt of her movie star charisma so that the character glows as the effervescent angel Eloise perceives her to be. Taylor-Joy is ultimately a little underused, but this is McKenzie’s movie and she grabs it with aplomb.
As this is a Wright joint, the supporting cast is also packed with riches. Smith charms and chills in equal measure, while Rigg gets many of the script’s best lines and Terence Stamp does great work as a man whose job is mostly to stand and glower from a distance. Some of the younger members of the ensemble fare less well, with Eloise’s classmates written as laughably broad mean girl stereotypes, though her burgeoning romance with likeable college buddy John (Michael Ajao) is a highlight which deserved more screen time.
Last Night in Soho is at its best in its swaggering first half, when Wright’s aptitude for nostalgia and cinephile affection is allowed to run riot. Notably, Wright and co-writer Krysty Wilson-Cairns don’t try to force the director’s comedy background into the script – though there are more than enough laughs baked in. Cinematographer Chung-hoon Chung drenches the screen in neon and ensures that both the razzle dazzle and the scuzz of the setting are given equal visual prominence, as the riotously fun 60s soundtrack dusts everything with a layer of retro cool. If you leave the cinema without Petula Clark ringing in your ears, you’re a stronger viewer than I am.
Unfortunately, the movie rather comes off the rails in its third act as the revelations tumble forth. The movie delivers a lurid, nonsensical conclusion that seems to nod to the camp absurdity of classic horror, but feels misjudged in an era in which storytellers must be more careful about the messages they send out into the world. Whether the bum notes of the final movement are enough to sour the movie’s enjoyable recipe may come down to your mileage for Wright as a filmmaker. If his hyper-referential style is up your street, Last Night in Soho carries more than enough treats to offset the flaws in its climactic execution.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★
Tom Beasley is a freelance film journalist and wrestling fan. Follow him on Twitter via @TomJBeasley for movie opinions, wrestling stuff and puns.