Directed by Edgar Wright; Written by Krysty Wilson-Cairns
Big city life fosters big city dreams: the glitz, the possibilities, the pulsing vibrancy, and to live outside of it is to feel the magnetic pull of what we now call FOMO. People have their reasons for uprooting and heading downtown, but what they yearn for is to feel that they are where things happen, or in the case of young Eloise, happened.
A designer-in-utero, she’s fascinated with the Swinging Sixties and Soho is for her the sacred city, the backdrop of her dreams where every street is paved with her fantasies. When she gets accepted into a prestigious fashion program, it’s off to London, but life proves a little overwhelming for the small town girl, with leering cab drivers, catty roommates and party culture that makes her more than a little homesick for her upbringing under the protective eaves of her countryside grandmother.
That is until she begins having vivid dreams, dreams she couldn’t have imagined more perfectly while awake, waking up in a time warp and in the wake of Sandie (Anya Taylor-Joy), a young singer with high hopes of becoming the talk of 60’s Soho. The nightclubs, the fashion, the dashing gentlemen – it’s all there, but above all, there’s the transporting thrill of ascendant success. Reality-busting bliss, however, soon becomes a nightmare when Sandie’s story turns tragic as she’s soon lashed down by the leers of men and the consequential horrors begin bleeding into Eloise’s waking life.
A ghost story and murder mystery woven into one, Last Night In Soho is the latest genre exercise from Edgar Wright, who can claim to be the premier genre filmmaker working today. Not because he’s ticking them off one by one, but because of how good he is at honoring the genre’s cinematic nature while also transcending them and adding his own deft touch. Yes, Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, and Baby Driver were all faithful homages to zombie flicks, buddy cop action-comedies and heist movies respectively, but to label them by that shorthand wouldn’t be fair to Wright, who has a distinguishable rhythm, edit, and flair for constructing a scene for maximum impact.
Last Night in Soho makes you keep up with this whirlwind direction, and that’s honestly fun, if only because Wright makes it so easy. In full control of filmmaking’s virtues, his colors are vivid, his dialogue snappy, editing’s sharp and above all, it’s a story of action that never lets itself fall into a daze. I’m sure it’s not easy to do, but it appears incredibly easy to put a solid film together when the people behind it have great raw ingredients and the wherewithal to know how to get that stew going. It appears effortless.
A real workhorse, however, is Thomasin McKenzie, who has to walk the line between shy timidity and self-possessed resilience in face of big city life before she must turn herself inside out reeling against the terrifying visions that begin to swim out of London’s dank alleyways to haunt Eloise. She has an intensity about her that you won’t find in the other stars of her generation, like Florence Pugh and Saoirse Ronan, and it’s perfect for a performance like this, strangely recalling Audrey Hepburn’s role as a blind woman who must endure a home invasion in Wait Until Dark: In over her head, up against it, but in possession of a wily will to live that she rallies around.
It’s a performance that might unfairly be overshadowed by Anya Taylor-Joy as Sandie, the girl who dreams of similar stardom. It’s the first film I’ve seen her in, and, well, she’s deserving of her newfound star status. Entering the film, she sucks the air right out of the room, striding through a busy nightclub, and while it’s a scene where Eloise is right beside her throughout, it becomes a solo act, as the imaginary spotlight Taylor-Joy turns on herself makes everything and everyone around her invisible.
Together with McKenzie, Last Night in Soho has a potent one-two punch of nerve and bravado that keeps up with Wright behind the camera, which is easier said than done. Just ask Ansel Elgort, whose central performance was a forgettable tire squeal in the road-tearing, rubber-burning symphony of Baby Driver.
With its hallucinatory horrors and bloodshed, Last Night in Soho is what might have been if 1960’s Roman Polanski had decided on a murder-mystery flick to sandwich in between Repulsion and Rosemary’s Baby, uniting the predatory sexualized horror of the former with the paranoia of the latter. From there, Wright’s touch for subversion makes this a worthy entry in the (sadly small) list of horror films where women are hunted, but never victims.