Even before I knew what Last Night in Soho was really about, it became one of my most anticipated movies slated for release this year. Edgar Wright has been one of the most consistently fresh and thoroughly entertaining director’s of the modern era. He found his style with his ‘Cornetto Trilogy’, and has since changed his tune and body of work with 2017’s Baby Driver. His latest piece of work again takes a much different direction, as it fully immerses itself into the horror genre. Something Wright has previously played around with in the earlier stages of his career.
This gloomy tale tells the story of fashion student Eloise Turner (Thomasin McKenzie), as she embarks on her journey from quiet Cornwall lass to future fashion designer. Taking the invitation to study at the London College of Fashion, Ellie’s life in the big city is about to change in more ways than she could’ve anticipated. After struggling with the overwhelming social stigmas of university life, she moves into a quaint little bedsit away from the clutches of social conformity. As it turns out the room she occupies has a hidden dark past. When she sleeps, she is taken back to the roaring 1960’s, and vicariously lives through the life of aspiring singer and performer, Sandie (Anya Taylor-Joy).
Becoming entranced by an era she always believed she was more likely to fit into, Ellie enters a wormhole into a separate life that seems inviting at first, but when she starts to unearth a dark secret, Ellie’s life is threatened. When her dreams and visions start bleeding into her own reality, she believes she must close a decades old case of murder and sex scandals.
Within its opening set-up alone, you get a different feeling from what Wright has done in the past. It doesn’t feel as quippy, and doesn’t quite have that sharp editing which has become a trademark to Wright’s filmmaking style. The foundations are certainly still there and long-term fans of his work will still be able to recognise his many directing mannerisms hidden behind its unfamiliar and mysterious wrapping.
This truly feels like a passion piece for the director, who at this stage very much seems content on breaking away from the style of film that propelled his career. Baby Driver (2017) was a window to the opportunities that would be at offering, and Last Night in Solo is yet another example of a director willing to dip his toes into something fresh.
Lending itself more to the horror/mystery genre in ways that the comedy element isn’t really a factor at all. This is my biggest criticism in regards to the tone of Last Night in Soho. Edgar Wright has the ability to draw comedy from anywhere, and force it into situations that are far from funny. Whether it be a zombie outbreak, a secret murderous organisation plaguing a sweet little English village, or an alien invasion threatening to destroy the world. Last Night in Soho provides yet another menacing reality, but spends far more time ironing out the darker elements woven within its narrative, than cracking out the occasional joke when the time seems right.
Thomasin McKenzie turns in a wonderful performance as Ellie. Her character quickly goes through the motions of timid, insecure country girl to ambitious, fashionista thrown into a damming disaster whilst appointing herself detective. Strong supporting roles from Anya Taylor-Joy as Sandie and Matt Smith as the devilishly mysterious Jack. We also get two heavy hitting performances from two heavyweight performers. Terrence Stamp as the eerie admirer in Ellie’s story, and a final performance from the late great Diana Rigg as Miss Collins.
Equal parts delicious and delirious, Wright’s depiction of London is demonstrated in two separate eras. Both beaming with life and hidden horrors and are key to the overall execution of its engaging story. The first two acts sparkle with wonderous delight, as much like the characters in the story, we are desperate to get to the bottom of all the mystery. Sadly the final act doesn’t quite live up to the potential. As the glass shatters and the walls splinter and crash in on Ellie’s little world, metaphorically speaking so does the execution of its finale. Throwing in as many twists as it can, and helplessly trying to tie up all loose ends in its narrative, Last Night in Soho doesn’t quite stick the landing in its final third.
Edgar Wright’s successes may seem small in comparison to what he’s offered in the past, but for a director who is being bold by taking his skill in a new direction, Last Night in Soho barely loses its footing. It’s often said that two wrongs don’t make a right, but I’d be willing to argue that even with the two wrongs I have with Last Night in Soho, this still feels so… Wright.