LAST NIGHT IN SOHO ½
2021, R, 118mins.
Thomasin McKenzie as Eloise / Anya Taylor-Joy as Sandy / Matt Smith as Jack / Diana Rigg as Miss CollinsDirected by Edgar Wright / Written by Wright and Krysty Wilson-Cairns
Let it be stated that I've been a staunch admirer and supporter of Edgar Wright's films since the beginning of his career.
His work hardly needs any introduction whatsoever, but everything from his landmark zombie apocalypse comedy in SHAUN OF THE DEAD through his comic book adaptation of SCOTT PILGRIM VS THE WORLD to, most recently, his crime caper thriller BABY DRIVER has shown him as a virtuoso cinematic stylist of incomparable gusto.
I looked forward
to seeing his latest endeavor in the psychological horror film LAST NIGHT
IN SOHO, and the most overwhelming thought that crossed my mind while
screening it was that this represents yet another stunningly realized
technical showpiece for the British filmmaker that rivals anything on his
past resume. Regretably,
though, this film also represents a proverbial style over substance
conundrum that really sticks out. LAST NIGHT IN SOHO is a gloriously
realized visual odyssey through and through, but the whole film simply
doesn't work or come off as well as it wants to as a terrifying genre
exercise. Yet, there's so
much to bloody admire here: the performances, production design, art
direction, and overall ambition of its premise. Alas, Wright's film
somehow just oddly falls apart in the end.
But, boy oh boy,
did he ever cast this film well. Thomasin
McKenzie (so brilliant in her career making turn in LEAVE
NO TRACE and one of the best things in the problematic JOJO
RABBIT) plays Ellie, a bright minded and highly idealistic art
student that has become romantically absorbed in everything 1960s, from
its clothing styles, music, and movies.
She has huge aspirations to make it as a top tier fashion designer
in London (which seems so very far away from her rural home) and to be
accepted into an extremely prestigious fashion design school. Ellie lost her mother to suicide years back and now lives
with her loving and nurturing grandmother, but from time to time Ellie
still has visions of her mother throughout the day, who makes fleeting
appearances in the film as a ghostly apparition that quietly watches on
her daughter from beyond the grave. Much
to Ellie's elation and her grandmother's concern, she does get accepted
into the aforementioned school, which leads to her quickly packing up and
moving to London all on her own. She
can't wait to drink in everything the city has to offer her, whereas her
grandmother is deeply concerned that she'll be easily overwhelmed by this
It doesn't start
off too particularly rosy for Ellie.
Firstly, she's hit on by the creepy middle aged cab driver upon her
first car ride through London, and later when she's introduced to her
roommate in Jocasta (Synnove Karlsen) and her BFF squad she soon realizes
that these young woman relish at any opportunity to bully her.
Understanding that she can't possibly live with Jocasta at all,
Ellie decides to flee her dorm room and find a new place to call home,
which leads to her finding room and board with a kindly, but tough talking
and no nonsense elderly landlady, Ms. Collins (the late Diana Rigg, in her
last movie role). During her
first night in her new pad Ellie makes a shocking discovery: Every night
when she lays down to sleep she's miraculously transported to a mid-60s
London (the very era that she worships!) and gets to vicariously
experience this new world opened up to her via an attractive young singer,
Sandy (Anya Taylor-Joy), who hopes to make it big with some help from her
new boyfriend in Jack (Matt Smith). For
the first few nights, Ellie is utterly absorbed with transporting to the
swinging sixties and witnessing Sandy nab her dream job; the world seems
ripe for her to grab a hold of and conquer.
though, things take a decidedly darker detour and Ellie's once upbeat
perception of Sandy and her world begins to crumble down.
Not only does Jack emerge as a lecherous fiend as her lover and
manager, but Sandy soon realizes that she's being groomed to service the
carnal pleasures of many different male patrons on a nightly basis.
As Sandy's horror show begins to unfold at night, Ellie's grasp on
sanity and reality begins to slip during the day, especially when it seems
that elements of her dream world of the past begin to traumatize and haunt
her in the present. Everyone
around her, of course, thinks that Ellie is nuttier than a fruitcake, but
she remains steadfast in her convictions that her bedroom is a mystical
portal into the past and that maybe - just maybe - Sandy and Mike
are not just make-believe personas at all.
With each passing and mentally taxing day, Ellie soon discovers how
hopelessly alone she is and that no one will help her figure out the
troubling mysteries of the past.
premise contained within LAST NIGHT AT SOHO is a densely layered one
riddled with complexities that certainly requires audience members to pay
attention and not dose off, but it's nevertheless an endlessly fascinating
one. Wright is playing with
the conventions of wish fulfillment fantasies here, more specifically the
notion that all of them, once experienced by his plucky protagonist, are
anything but cheerful and exciting. In
short, what if one's dream in life quickly becomes a living nightmare, and
one that waking up from becomes harder and harder with each passing day?
I certainly understand why a director such as Wright would want to
find any outlet to revisit his birth nation's past, and one of the sheer
joys of watching LAST NIGHT AT SOHO (early on, at least) is the director
unleashing his unique skill set in immersing viewers in a London of
yesteryear. On a level of
meticulous technical craft, this film is an unqualified masterpiece and
works as pure period specific eye candy.
The attention to detail in LAST NIGHT IN SOHO is laudable, to say
the least, and upon Ellie's first pilgrimage to the decade of her
fantasies the film definitely has an ethereal magic about it all; it's
easy to become lost in this world within a world here.
That, and Wright
unleashes some truly extraordinary set pieces that shows Ellie's nocturnal
treks to the past. She
doesn't just witness Sandy's story...she literally becomes Sandy
(in reflections in mirrors she sees herself, but the rest of the world of
1960s London sees Sandy in a psuedo-QUANTUM LEAP effect).
There are some incredible in-camera effects (I'm assuming they're
in camera) that features, for one instance, a tour de force dance montage
in a hip and posh 60s nightclub as Jack dances the night away with Sandy,
but as the one long take goes on we seem actresses McKenzie and Taylor-Joy
effortlessly morph in and out of shots in a moment of marvelous movie
trickery. Without question,
LAST NIGHT AT SOHO is peppered with moments of legitimate awe and wonder,
and Wright has a field day in capturing the hypnotizing, dreamlike aura of
a London that has a Svengali-like grip on Ellie's consciousness.
The film is also permeated with classic songs of the period in
question as well, and in many respects makes for an interesting spiritual
sequel to Wright's last film in BABY DRIVER, which also contained a
central storyline that featured a robust marriage between movies and
again, why doesn't LAST NIGHT IN SOHO just...work?
It has seemingly everything going for it, not the least of which
being McKenzie, who is so pitch-perfectly cast and thoroughly on point
here as her initially mesmerized big city greenhorn that later becomes
tormented by the living terrors that possesses her soul.
Maybe it has something to do with LAST NIGHT IN SOHO throwing too
many elements into its mixing bowl. Sometimes,
hodgepodge cinema either flows well or it doesn't.
In this film's case, it's a coming of age tale of a plucky and
determined young woman and a nostalgic throwback picture to a
bygone era and a time travel romance and a psychological
horror freak show featuring ghastly demons (both metaphorical and literal)
that manifest themselves to the hero and makers her life miserable.
Some of this works, but most of it seems clunky and uninspired in
terms of symmetry from the usually poised and assured Wright.
LAST NIGHT IN SOHO is a film with lots of square shaped pegs that
its director yearns to have fit multiple round holes.
Like all would-be promising PWP films (or ones containing a premise
without payoff), LAST NIGHT IN SOHO begins so wonderfully and entices
audiences into its transfixing multiple planes of existence, only to fall
apart when trying to explain the whole hook, which leads to a final act
and ending that's not nearly as satisfying as everything that built up
another big problem here is that LAST NIGHT AT SOHO is rarely
shocking...or unnerving...or scary in the slightest.
Wright serves up macabre sights and sounds, but they barely even
hit the low rent jump scare register.
Furthermore, the multiple mysteries contained within the story
(penned, by the way, by Wright and 1917
screenwriter Krysty Wilson-Cairns) are fairly predictable when one starts
to follow Roger Ebert's "Law of Economy of Characters" (a
seemingly minor or unimportant character turns out to be much more crucial
to the plot than they first appear) and the eleventh hour revelations
thrown out at us late in the film is pretty uninspired.
Considering the darkness of the LAST NIGHT IN SOHO's trek to the
past (which involves forced prostitution and the toxic male power brokers
at the top of it all), this film seems thematically reticent, if not
hopelessly inert at times.