Last Night in Soho is an elegant but uneven psychological horror film about a
small-town young woman who moves to the big city. She soon begins to relive the
experiences of a tortured woman in her troubling and increasingly dreams or are
they flashbacks to another life?
The film was directed by Edgar Wright who is one of the most promising genre
directors of the last 20 years, although he has not had the massive commercial
break through, he deserves.
He made his name on the British TV show, Spaced (1999-2001). Then he went on to
make an impressive series of films (many were either horror or sci-fi comedies)
such as Shawn of the Dead (2004), Hot Fuzz (2007), Scott Pilgrim vs the World
Best of all he made the adventure/action film, Baby Driver (2017) which ended up
on my top 10 films of the year list and the
end up on my best films list this year.
Last Night in Soho has a killer soundtrack packed with British Invasion era hits
including co-star Anya Taylor-Joy doing a decent cover of Petunia Clark’s
Downtown as well as songs by Peter & Gordon, Dusty Springfield, The Searchers,
The Kinks, The Who, The Walker Brothers, and even Last Night in Soho by Dave
Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick & Titch. The more modern, Goth tinged "Happy House" is
played appropriately enough in a dark club in one of the film’s more eerie and
Last Night in Soho also has one of the most marvelous and surprising cast
combinations of the year. It stars Thomasin McKenzie (from Leave No Trace and
Jo Rabbit), Anya Taylor-Joy (from
Queen’s Gambit and The Witch), and Matt Smith
(from Doctor Who and The Crown),
The film is partially a homage to the swinging English and British realist films
of the 60’s and it features many actors from those films such as Terrance Stamp
(from The Collector and Far from the Maddening Crowd), and Rita Tushington (The
Knack and How to Get It.) Tragically, two of the cast members, Diana Rigg (from
The Avengers and Game of Thrones), and Margaret Nolan (from Goldfinger and A
Hard Day’s Night) died before the film came out.
Eloise “Ellie” Turner is a young shy woman who lives with her grand mom (Rita
Tushington), but she decides to move to London to pursue her dream of becoming a
big-time fashion designer at the London Academy of Fashion.
She is a nostalgic and wishes she could live in the Britain of the 60s, and she
would usually rather stay home and listen to the Kinks or Dusty Springfield than
go out partying. Thomasin McKenzie is quite wonderful in the lead role and her
fragility, vulnerability and quiet elegance are reminiscent of a young Audrey
There is some cause for concern because when Ellie’s mom went to the big city,
she was disillusioned and ended up committing suicide. Ellie seems to take after
her mom and seems a bit fragile and over sensitive.
Initially it looks like Ellie might have a potential ally in her roommate and
fellow fashion student, Jacosta (played by Synnove Karlson), but she turns out
to be a jealous and hedonistic back stabber. Jacosta mortifies the shy Elie by
having loud, violent sex with her boyfriend while Ellie is awake in her room.
The final straw occurs when Ellie catches Jacosta talking trash about Elie to
Ellie ends up moving to a new apartment. The landlord there, Ms. Collins (played
by Diana Rigg in her last role) is another woman who came to the city young and
saw her dreams dashed. Initially, she seems paternal and caring towards Ellie,
but there is more to her than meets the eye.
Ellie keeps seeing visons of a singing showgirl/prostitute (played by the
magnetic Anya Taylor-Joy) in a 60s club backdrop who is constantly abused by her
pimp, Jack (played by Matt Smith). Did Jack ultimately kill her or was it
someone else or did she suffer an even worse fate?
The romantic subplot is by far the most underdeveloped part of the story. Ellie
has a black suitor, John (Michael Ajo) with seemingly unlimited patience. She
invites him to spend the night at her apartment even though the landlady said no
boyfriends were allowed) has one of her flashbacks which turns violent. This
causes quite a ruckus, and the boyfriend is nearly accused of rape, but nothing
further is done with this subplot or the issue of biracial romance.
Last Night in Soho is extremely engaging in its first three quarters, but it
loses it’s footing a bit in the last part. The film had been just fine with its
intriguing story and occasional special effects, but it goes a bit wrong when it
throws every conceivable special effect at us.
It is almost as if the film lost its confidence and dropped a few IQ levels just
to dazzle the audience. Director, Wright could have learned a few lessons from
the original Twilight Zone or Val Lewton films. Just because you can show
something does not mean you should and sometimes less is more.
Although the film plays with, the formula of the innocent girl who goes to the
small town and is corrupted and/or punished for her adventurousness without
giving too much a way (this is the basic plot of Sister Carrie and dozens of
other novels and movies), I will say that this film subverts this formula in the
end and a protagonist earns her own space.
Also, the conclusion has a genuinely pleasing out of left field revelation that
is surprisingly effective which gets the film back on track. The film is fairly
engaging most of the time, and it is recommended to Anglophiles, horror fans,
and lovers of 60s films, but it could have been better.