Review – Last Night in Soho

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Overview

Synopsis Eloise is a young country girl who has moved to London to achieve her dreams! When she moves into an old apartment, she finds herself seeing visions of a woman in the 1960s who's life is consumed by abuse and violence.

Length 1 Hour 56 Minutes

Release Date October 29th, 2021

 

Rating R

Distribution Focus Features

Directing Edgar Wright

Writing Edgar Wright, Krysty Wilson-Cairns

Composition Steven Price

Starring Thomasin McKenzie, Anya Taylor-Joy, Matt Smith, Michael Ajao, Terence Stamp, Diana Rigg

Edgar Wright movies fascinate me, as they do for most young film geeks. He’s one of our best cinematic stylists and makes movies that typically stand the test of time: Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, Scott Pilgrim, Baby Driver, etc. 

Following his career, this decade has been somewhat frustrating. He only releases films every four years because his career plans keep getting interrupted with production drama (Ant-Man) or an international pandemic, as was the case with his newest film. Still, I can’t argue with the results. Every one of his films ends up great.  

He’s definitely entered a more experimental stage of his career. The three Cornetto films he made with Simon Pegg and Nick Frost were all homages to genre films (zombie films, cop flicks, etc) but there was a familiarity to them because Wright was bringing his friends back for every movie. Now he doesn’t seem to have that benefit and his films feel somewhat colder. Again though, that’s hardly a slight. A movie like Baby Driver or Last Night in Soho would be career-defining if any other director made them. 

Content Guide

Violence/Scary Images: Several gruesome scenes of stabbing, attempted murder, blood and death.
Language/Crude Humor: Several uses of heavy language including f*** and c***.
Sexual Content: Several scenes of scantily clad women but no nudity or sex is depicted. Prostitution and pimping are major themes within the movie.
Drug/Alcohol Use: Characters drink heavily and get drunk.
Spiritual Content: Several characters appear as ghosts.
Other Negative Themes: Depictions of sexism, sexual violence, murder, and vengeance.
Positive Content: Themes of growth, maturity, adulthood, and mental health.

Review

When you have five masterpieces to your name, it earns you the right to start experimenting and finding new places to explore your abilities as a director. For director Edgar Wright, he’s now using his clout to explore a genre of cinema he’s never fully embraced before: horror. Last Night in Soho is Wright’s attempt to homage 1960s psychological thrillers. He’s mentioned in interviews that Roman Polanski’s Repulsion is a primary influence. It’s not a light homage either. It’s very overt. Both films are thrillers about madness and women’s complex relationships with men. 

Our main character is Eloise (Thomason McKenzie); an idealistic young woman from Cornwall with an attraction to 1960s culture and music who dreams of moving to London to become a fashion designer. When she finally arrives, she finds herself in an adult world of leering men and cruel mean girls who torture and seemingly threaten her. In an effort to reestablish herself, she pays for an expensive room in Soho where she can retreat into her dreams and music. While staying there, she starts experiencing complex visions of a woman in 1960’s Soho (Anya Taylor-Joy) who is sucked from her own idealistic dream of becoming a singer and slowly manipulated into becoming a prostitute by an abusive pimp (Matt Smith). Fearing that her visions might be a sign of her late mother’s mental illness in her, Eloise starts trying to understand her uncanny visions and figure them out before she loses control of her sanity. 

On its face, it’s not hard to detect what Edgar Wright is exploring. He and his screenwriting partner, Krysty Wilson-Cairns (1917), are exploring the experience of the modern woman in a major city. The contrast of idealism, cruelty, and coldness portray just how hard the world can be on young women. The movie constantly highlights the sexualization of women in the entertainment industry, the emotional toll of selling one’s body for work, and the discomfort of unwanted sexual advances. As if to highlight this, the film even gives a prominent roles to the late Diana Rigg, the “Bond Girl” from On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, and the late Margaret Nolan, who was in Goldfinger. There’s a bitter sweetness to their presence in the movie. 

The satire isn’t terribly biting though. Unlike films such as Get Out, there are characters within the movie that affirm the goodness of the people the film is satirizing. At least two prominent male characters are revealed to be unreservedly good people. Even so, it is quite unreserved in its disdain. The stylish 1960s segments all undermine the nostalgia of the film and underline the painful sexual dynamics of the past. It’s almost a direct rebuttal to the optimism and nostalgia of a film like Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

It’s not a film that’s going to work for everyone. As evidenced by the extremely mixed reviews, it’s clear that Last Night in Soho is a story you’re either going to groove on or get caught amongst its weeds. RogerEbert.com described it as “inert” and “funny and chaotic, slick and stylish, and falls apart in its confounding second half-life”. The Detroit News similarly lamented that “the good times grind to a halt about midway through this thriller as it takes a misguided plunge into horror territory and never recovers.” 

These are the harsher reviews I’ve read and I do agree at points with them. There are times when the horror elements turn to mush and the special effects overpower the emotions of the characters. There are also times when the tension and emotional distress are impactful and gut-wrenching.

It’s messy but its story feels like it comes to a solid place by its conclusion. Last Night in Soho ultimately becomes a coming-of-age film. It’s a slow burn psychological thriller movie with horror elements, but its core story is one of coming to recognize the world through the eyes of an adult and seeing it for all of it complexities and horrors. It becomes a story of staring into the Hell of other people’s lives and learning the lessons they couldn’t learn. As I said before, we’d probably be appreciating this film more if it hadn’t been directed by the guy who made masterpieces like Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz. 

Positives

+ Solid lead performances
+ Great production design
+ Themes of sexism, sexual abuse, the relationship between the sexes, and vengeance

Negatives

- Some weak CGI and horror moments
- Either a weak script or weak story execution

The Bottom Line

Last Night in Soho may very well be Edgar Wright's weakest film since A Fistful of Fingers, his student film, but it's also an energetic, well-meaning, and tense movie that builds to an excellent conclusion. It would be well celebrated if any other director had made it!

 

7.8

Tyler Hummel

Born into the unexplored residential backwater of Chicago, Tyler Hummel is a graduate of Tribeca Flashpoint College where he studied Sound Design for Film and Interactive Media. When he isn't hosting his public access talk show The Fox Valley Film Critics or collecting DragonBall Z figurines, he enjoys writing and directing short films. As with Rick from Casablanca, "he's a man like any other man, just more so!"

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