Beaming with frivolous, enticing energy and directed with unparalleled style and flair, Edgar Wright’s Last Night In Soho (2021) is the ultimate fun you can buy at a price of a movie ticket.
I’ll admit right away that any previous endeavor of Edgar Wright didn’t leave me begging for more. That particularly applied to Baby Driver (2017), a stylish crime festivity filled with preposterous characters and plot contrivances. But let’s talk about Last Night In Soho (2021), a film that surpasses Wright’s previous film in every detail possible.
We meet Eloise (Thomas McKenzie) – a charming girl who lives in cloud-cuckoo-land, in a world of self-made fashion and classics from the 60s. Upon introducing Eloise, Wright refrains from following beaten paths of the genre. Even if his film’s technically a horror, the opening scene would be a perfect segue from Jojo Rabbit (2019) and its dance-along conclusion. Eloise, wearing a zany dress, sings A World Without Love. Minutes later, she learns that her new life is about to begin. A student life that is, in the scary city of London, that – as heralded by her grandmother – can be a lot.
The warning doesn’t come unexpectedly. Eloise’s mother committed suicide, lost in the guts of the concrete behemoth. Suffice to say, despite all the infectious positivity of Eloise, dark clouds are hanging. Nevertheless, Eloise packs her bags and travels to face the monster, but the initial excitement quickly trades places with the let-down that follows. There’s a mean poser Jocasta who conglomerates all the worst flatmates on Earth. The never-ending parties violate the sensitive comfort zone of the protagonist. Wright makes it clear that Eloise doesn’t fit, but she’s also a fighter. Without hesitation, she decides to rent a room, from an odd lady Ms. Collins (Diana Rigg). Just when things seem to be back on track, Eloise discovers a peculiar time hole that – upon falling asleep – throws her back to the vibrant 60s.
That’s precisely the moment when Edgar Wright begins his tour de force. The build-up reaches its completion, and next thing you see is a stunningly crafted scene in a nightclub. Wright embellishes London with all he’s got – the neon lights pulsating everywhere, a packed lively venue, and music that makes your feet stomp. But the true heart of the scene is Sandie (Anya Taylor-Joy), the heroine in the eyes of Eloise, who – as if a stranger in someone else’s body – imbibes the young starlet hungry for fame.
Wright’s flair is just mesmerizing. To establish the rules that dictate the story, the director orchestrates a riveting dance choreography, where Sandie and Eloise twirl in a time-warping masquerade with the club manager Jack (Matt Smith). That comes with a cherry on top – a tribute to John Travolta and Uma Thurman’s unforgettable jive in Pulp Fiction (1994) that doesn’t feel like shoving unnecessary analogies just for the sake of doing so. Here, even the context justifies such a wink.
Once the pawns are placed, Last Night In Soho (2021) proceeds to connect the main actors of its tragedy – the helpless observer Eloise, the ambitious star-to-be Sandie and club manager Jack. The more we dive into the story, the boundaries between the two realities blur, leaving Eloise more vulnerable and sunk in solving the mystery of what happened to Sandie. Jumping in time between the 60s and the present times creates a plethora of opportunities for Wright to show off, but each transition’s flawless.
Aside from the visual part of it, the whole intertwining idea is nothing short of brilliant for several reasons. Firstly, it’s a mercurial twist on the ghost genre, where the protagonist becomes a specter in the past. Moreover, Wright devises a cunning way to drag the audience into a labyrinth of facts, and dreams, all infusing and overlapping each other like. Despite the many threads he unfolds, Wright remains in control at all times. It’s his singular vision that makes this gorgeous-to-look-at mess worth your while.
A separate part of this blissful piece of art is the music, composed by Steven Price. Even as I write this review, I’m listening to The Walker Brothers, James Ray, and other songs from the soundtrack. Hitting similar jivey tunes as Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon A Time In Hollywood (2019), Price understands that the score combines two contradicting spheres – not only the timeline-based ones. On the one hand, Last Night In Soho (2021) makes you wanna dance, but it also provides haunts and psychological tension that require separate sound design. Hence the original score fills those ghastly moments, meanwhile surf rock, pop and progressive pop hits blast the speakers. Together, they paint a coherent, singular journey.
As far as the horror part goes, it’s visibly an uncharted terrain for Wright. Despite his immense success with Shaun Of The Dead (2004), the Brit isn’t a bonafide master of scares. You do see that in Last Night In Soho (2021), which tends to escape its most violent moments, and lean towards mind games played on Eloise. Ghosts populate the screen, and they’re eager to disturb the poor protagonist. However, the baseline of all the scares in Last Night In Soho (2021) is psychology. Wright explores dark topics, such as physical abuse and preying on dreams that twist the mind of Eloise. Knowing her mother’s past, you also can’t shake off the frightening suspicion where her story’s going too.
While I couldn’t care much for the wallowing spooks of men walking around, Matt Smith’s loathsome role as Jack sufficed for all of the less convincing horror parts. Smith, who always liked to flirt with genre films – Lost River (2014) and more recently His House (2020) – owns the slimy predator that Jack is. As the story progresses, Smith turns into a full-fledged devil. Although staying in the shadows of McKenzie and Taylor-Joy, Smith constructs a riveting arc of a charmer with abusive instincts; a character that’s up the same lane as Patrick Bateman from American Psycho (2000).
But as mentioned earlier, this is very much a spectacle of two rising stars of cinema. Anya Taylor-Joy radiates with confidence and mojo that makes all men gawk at her; an embodiment of sexual revolution of these times. That’s the surface though because inside sizzles a dramatic role that matures and finds its shape through the film. I bet that some of the scenes starring Taylor-Joy are bound to become classic.
Maybe out of all the film’s wins, Wright’s crowning achievement is directing young Thomasin McKenzie. The actress already got to shine on Taika Waitit’s set, but what a performance she puts in Last Night In Soho (2021). McKenzie sells the cute, cheerful freshman just as convincingly as a person who begins to lose her mind. Her range’s impressive, and so is the charm she possesses. So, like the finest decoration on a Christmas tree that you hang to finish the festive embellishments, McKenzie puts her heart and soul to guarantee that Last Night In Soho (2021) is a complete package.