It isn’t often I want to see a movie again right after it ends, but if anyone’s looking to join me for a late Last Night in Soho tonight I’d be down. Edgar Wright’s new twisted, atmospheric, almost hypnotically gorgeous horror story is one of his very best, and has a playful, inventive quality to the cinematography, the storytelling and the performances. Everything here is firing on all cylinders, and oh my, this one is a stunner. It’s one of those all-too-rare experiences that reminds me why I love going to the movies so much.
Eloise Turner (Thomasin McKenzie) is a young aspiring fashion designer who is giddy with excitement when she’s accepted to the University of London’s fashion program. She’s always had a romantic vision of London in the 1960s. After she ditches her hideous mean girl-type dorm roommate, she rents a room above Mrs. Collins’ (Diana Rigg)’s home, which is next door to a French bistro where flashing blue and red neon lights shine into her bedroom all night. When she goes to bed, she dreams she’s a mysterious woman (Anya Taylor-Joy) in 1960s London, Sandie, an aspiring singer with a troubling back story, that slowly finds its way to Ellie’s present in troubling and insidious ways.
Last Night in Soho is playing around with genre in a way that reminds me a lot of Kill Bill-era Tarantino, and plays a lot with audience expectations in the same way. This is a mesmerizing, atmospheric nail-biter that keeps the audience guessing the entire way through. I’ve heard some say a reveal in the film’s third act ruins it, and while I’ll admit there are some plot holes and some factors that don’t always add up, this is a film remarkably confident in its convictions, and it’s an utter joy to behold, the more lurid it becomes. This is a dark story that goes to some ugly places, but in the end it’s almost triumphant.
Thomasin McKenzie fulfills the promise of her performance in Leave No Trace, and then some. She holds this film together in a way that appears effortless, and it obviously isn’t, as there is so much work to be done to convince you of this character’s emotional turmoil, her past, her present and what her future means. She’s a character so trapped in the romanticized idea of the past, and the horrifying realization of what was really going on then. McKenzie is fantastic as a leading lady, but also as a scream queen. I’d love her to do a hundred more films like this.
Anya Taylor-Joy is also pretty fantastic in what this film is asking her to do, which admittedly isn’t much. She’s the romanticized idea of the doomed 1960s starlet, and we don’t see much of her internal life, until we do. Joy doesn’t have as much to do as one might expect, since promotional materials are selling her as the star of the show. Fans might find Soho includes less of her than they might expect, but what’s there is absolutely perfect, and they couldn’t have cast somebody better suited to this.
Doctor Who’s Matt Smith appears as Jack, Sandie’s devious manager, who may or may not be a suspect in something sinister. Michael Ajao is quite charming as John, Ellie’s classmate and later love interest, who unfortunately doesn’t have much to do apart from listening to Ellie as her mental condition deteriorates. And the late, great Diana Rigg gives a terrific performance as Ellie’s landlady, a final performance that encapsulates everything I loved about this legend taken from us too soon. I bet she’d love what this movie ended up looking like.
Edgar Wright has become one of the most reliable directors in Hollywood, an auteur who likes to play around with the audience and their preconceived notions about what this kind of movie should look like. The cinematography and soundtrack are also top notch in every way. An overwhelming color palette topped off with a swingin’ ‘60s soundtrack full of the kind of needle drops you might not expect. None of them are the obvious choice, and I was so pleased to be able to order a fancy collector’s edition vinyl copy of the soundtrack after seeing the movie. Last Night in Soho is also a fun rumination on what the dark side of nostalgia looks like – sometimes nostalgia will try to literally murder you. Last Night in Soho is a gorgeously mesmerizing dreamlike nightmare full of surprises and unexpected detours. It’s one of my favorite movies of the year.