by Robbie Jones
As one of Britain’s most indisputably popular filmmakers, Edgar Wright has reached a point in his career where his work has become an event. Fans and critics have come to anticipate Wright’s signature style with each new release and, whether or not the film is good, revel in the pleasure of having experienced yet another journey into his cinematic landscape. Wright has made it abundantly clear that his love for film knows no bounds – It’s often the most obvious and endearing aspect of his work – and while Last Night in Soho is far from his strongest effort, it’s likely among the most lovingly crafted films of the year.
Eloise (Thomasin McKenzie) is an aspiring fashion designer who goes to London to study the chase her dreams as a student. Put off her accommodation by terrible flatmates, she moves out to a bedsit in Soho where she can be by herself. At night, when she gets into bed, she finds herself transported back to the 1960s – the decade that she’s most fond of, when it comes to music and fashion – and observing the life of a mysterious singer named Sandie (Anya Taylor-Joy),who she seems to be inexplicably linked to. What starts as a dream quickly turns into a nightmare as Eloise begins to see the horrifying reality of Sandie’s life, which begins to haunt her too.
As a filmmaker who is very open about his influences, Edgar Wright wears his Hitchcock inspiration on his sleeve as he steps away from his usual conventions to deliver an out-and-out horror. What’s certainly not missing is the beautifully curated soundtrack, with some vintage needle drops to reflect Eloise’s taste and the 60s’ setting. What Last Night in Soho does well, it does really well; in addition to a stellar soundtrack, the eery and colourful lighting build a wonderfully chilling atmosphere that’s hard to escape from, for the characters caught up in the horror and us, too.
Thomasin McKenzie has proved her talent numerous times in the last few years, but she truly shines as Eloise, who is introduced with impeccable character building. In the opening scene, she dances around her room – covered in posters of fashion icons as well as her own designs – dreaming of her future success. McKenzie just has that glint in her eye that sells her passion for fashion design, and the way she adjusts when things quickly turn sour in London is wonderful. She makes for an endearing lead and the innocence, terror and confidence McKenzie brings to it is delightful. Back in time, Anya Taylor-Joy makes waves as the electrifying Sandie; a stunning performance also packed with passion and determination but, when her dreams aren’t quite met like she hoped, Taylor-Joy lays on a suitable misery and subsequent apathy to her life, further proving her status as one of the most talented actors around right now. Meanwhile, Matt Smith is on a mission to ruin the childhoods of Doctor Who fans as he becomes a nasty piece of work right in front of your eyes. His provocative and venomous performance may be the best we’ve seen from him yet. With more excellent supporting turns from Diana Rigg and Terence Stamp, the film faces no issues in the casting department.
Where the film does falter is in it’s second half, which Mr Wright very politlety asked press not to talk about it too much so we’ll keep it vague; the horror of Last Night in Soho is rooted in terror that is far more real than you might expect. In that respect, it’s a pretty horrifying picture, but the exploration of it in the second half is lacklustre. It loses steam and becomes repetitive, with an ending that feels quite underwhelming when it’s all said and done.
It’s unfortunate that it ends on such a disappointing note, but the strengths of Last Night in Soho are not to be ignored. Where it works, it shines, and even if it doesn’t culminate in something brilliant, it’s lovingly crafted and certainly worth a watch this spooky season.
Last Night in Soho played as part of the BFI London Film Festival