2021 has really turned into something of a purple patch for Edgar Wright. Coming hot on the heels of his documentary passion project The Sparks Brothers, which focused on the fraternal musical duo Ron & Russell Mael (better known as Sparks), we get Last Night In Soho, marking Wright’s foray into the realm of psychological horror.
An aspiring fashion designer, Eloise ‘Ellie’ Turner (Thomasin McKenzie), has a dream of following in the footsteps of her late mother, who was also a designer, but died by suicide when Ellie was just a young girl. Having been picked to study at the London College of Fashion, Ellie ups sticks and leaves behind her life and her grandmother (Rita Tushingham) in Cornwall, moving to The Big Smoke for what she hopes will be the start of bigger and better things.
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Finding a room for let in a property off Goodge Street, owned by Ms Collins (Diana Rigg), Ellie – who is totally fixated on the music and stylings of the 1960s – finds herself starting to experience vivid dreams of the era, focusing on an aspiring performer going by the name Sandie (Anya-Taylor Joy), who quickly encounters a would-be manager, Jack (Matt Smith). The intense dreams soon turn to nightmares, as Ellie – who has a special gift to see things beyond others’ perception – is increasingly convinced that these are in fact visions of actual events from the past.
Before long, things end up bleeding from Ellie’s dreamscape into her everyday life as she starts to follow up on the events she sees at night, haunted by such terrible images of things that she believes occurred decades earlier; Ellie needs to get to the bottom of things before she gets totally overwhelmed and loses her sanity. In present-day Soho, her path keeps on crossing with a silver haired gent (Terence Stamp), someone who would seem to have a connection to what she has been experiencing, and may be the key to something terrible that took place.
The screenplay, which was co-written by Wright and Krysty Wilson-Cairns, shows the contrast between the rural idyll of the countryside and the corrosive, corrupting effect that big city life can have upon an innocent abroad, like Ellie. Despite the regular claims that Soho has been subject to increasing gentrification by developers, stripping out its longstanding character, Wright focuses on its somewhat seedy underbelly, showing that whatever perceived glamour may have been at one time associated with it has long-since faded, and that at heart it still has its unsavoury aspects.
Similarly, Wright’s view of the Sixties is uncompromising in quickly stripping away the romanticised view held by many, including our lead. The initial reveal we get is quite glorious and breathtaking, presenting a pitch-perfect recreation of London’s glittering West End from the mid-1960s, letting us share in Ellie’s awe and wonder; however, the scales soon fall from our eyes as things take a darker turn, and the subject of the exploitation and abuse of women – still relevant in our age of #MeToo – comes to the fore, showing us how victims back then lacked the platforms that exist now.
Visually, the film is a real spectacle, as you might well expect from Wright’s earlier work. There are so many lovely touches and flourishes on display here, from the use of reflections, to some truly clever editing which is breathtaking to behold. As things begin to deteriorate within Ellie’s visions, and events start to get out of control, it becomes a frenzied and frenetic kaleidoscope, and Wright uses all manner of visual cues, like Dutch angles, to reflect things being off-kilter. Wright clearly cares deeply about making things look stunning, not content to simply point a camera at the actors.
McKenzie truly shines as Ellie, presenting a convincing wide-eyed country girl ingenue, while at the same time hinting at something deeper going on beneath the surface. Following her outstanding turn in Taika Waititi’s Jojo Rabbit, it would seem that she really has great things ahead of her, thanks to her obvious versatility. The rest of the cast members are also equally superb, from Taylor-Joy’s brash and ballsy wannabe in Sandie, to Smith’s rough diamond charm as Jack gradually giving way to something far less savoury, a world apart from his goofy young-old boffin in Doctor Who.
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Wright has sought to strengthen the links to the Sixties in his deliberate use of actors who came to prominence during that era, such as Tushingham, Stamp, and Rigg, in what was to be her final role. For anyone who has had such a long and varied career as Rigg, you would hope that their curtain call will be a fitting epitaph; in that regard, then, Last Night In Soho does that perfectly, as her performance is as strong as ever. While Ms Collins is a comparatively minor role, it most definitely is no ‘cough and a spit’ part, feeling like a suitable bookend to a significant body of work.
The tension throughout in the movie is palpable, as it creeps up slowly by degree, each turn of the screw and reveal being ever more unbearable, with so many twists and shocks along the way. One of Last Night In Soho’s greatest strengths is its unpredictability, and the movie is a masterclass in the art of misdirection; in fact, it not only genuinely deserves but also warrants a repeat viewing soon after. Last Night In Soho is a real showstopper, delivering on all levels in such a satisfying way that pretty much all the mainstream blockbuster fodder out there simply cannot hope to match.
Last Night In Soho is out now at Cinemas.