Director: Edgar Wright
Starring: Thomasin McKenzie, Anya Taylor-Joy, Terence Stamp, Diana Rigg
Known for stylish, action-comedic films, British director Edgar Wright has added another bullet point to his ever versatile and growing oeuvre. This time, it’s the psychological horror/thriller genre with his latest film, Last Night in Soho. Though one might argue that 2004’s Shaun of the Dead fills that part of his resume, Last Night in Soho has an air of seriousness and intrigue that harkens back to early Polanski and Nicholas Roeg, two of the most genre-defying auteurs of their time, thus making this somewhat new territory.
Last Night in Soho focuses on young timid student Eloise (Thomasin McKenzie), who has psychic abilities. Having lost her mother early in life, she is able to “see” her at times. Living with her grandmother in a small rural town, she gets accepted to a venerable fashion school in London where her naivete of the big city and big city characters becomes overwhelming. Paired with a jealous, malicious and bullying roommate, Eloise sets out to find a place of her own. She finds an apartment in the Soho district of London, an area historically known for its red-light district and gangsters. Her psychic nature make her hypersensitive to her new environment and she starts to experience visions of a former tenant from the ‘60s: Sandy, a young aspiring and beautiful singer (Anya Taylor-Joy) in her dreams. At first, she is energized and inspired by these visions of late 60s Soho nightlife as well as Sandy’s style and beauty. But the visions take a darker turn and start intruding into her waking life. They get more and more terrifying by the day, making her question her sense of reality and sanity…
A direct follow up to this year’s excellent documentary The Sparks Brothers (previously reviewed here at FlixChatter), Wright’s flamboyant style, fast pacing and atmospherics are all here but in much more subdued quantities. Co-written with Krysty Wilson-Cairns, Wright’s story keeps things simple, yet is undulated with dreamlike and precisely choreographed sequences, full of color and sound that is at times Baz Luhrman, rather than new wave cinema. Wright seems to have taken inspiration from Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby (1968) and Nicholas Roeg’s Don’t Look Now (1973), in exhibiting first-person psychological horror with decent results.
It all somehow works. Thomasin McKenzie, who dazzled in Debra Granik’s Leave No Trace (2018), is brilliantly cast. Her performance makes the child-like and self-doubting Eloise completely believable – conjuring a touch of Mia Farrow’s Rosemary and a sure sign of a promising dramatic acting career. Anya Taylor-Joy is fine as usual as the 60s singing vixen Sandy. Terence Stamp is cleverly creepy as an elderly stranger seemingly with ties to Sandy’s history. And most notably, Diana Rigg, in her final film performance, is sharp as Eloise’s crusty old landlady. There’s no shortage of acting chops here.
Deft in its pacing, performances and atmospherics, the film satisfies in most respects. However, the fantastical in Last Night in Soho, with its musical interludes, gothic romance and time travel element relegate it to the realm of a fantasy film not unlike Guillermo del Toro’s Crimson Peak (2015). It might be too stylish for its own good but that is to be expected from Wright, whose resume includes Scott Pilgrim vs the World (2010) and Baby Driver (2017). However, that sensibility shouldn’t cause one to dismiss the film. Bottom line is it’s just not that scary and maybe it shouldn’t be. It’s an engaging and watchable thriller with twists and turns enough to give M. Night Shyamalan a run for his money. Warts and all, Last Night in Soho is imperfect but highly generous in giving us Thomasin McKenzie’s excellent performance. In this case, that is quite good enough.
So did you see LAST NIGHT IN SOHO? Let us know what you think!