FlixChatter Review: Last Night In Soho (2021)

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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.

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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…

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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. 

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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.

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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. 

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So did you see LAST NIGHT IN SOHO? Let us know what you think!

FlixChatter Review: TOLKIEN (2019)

Review by Vitali Gueron

When most people hear the name Tolkien, they might think of the author of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, (both of which were later turned into very successful film series by Peter Jackson, earning numerous accolades and awards) or they might think of English professor J. R. R. Tolkien (Nicholas Hoult), a poet, philologist, and academic who grew up relatively poor, never knew his father and lost his mother at a very young age. He was looked after by Father Francis Morgan, a Roman Catholic priest and former protege of Cardinal John Henry Newman, who served as Tolkien’s guardian and father figure. He attended King Edward’s School and met three of his best friends there. They formed a semi-secret society they called the T.C.B.S. The initials stood for Tea Club and Barrovian Society, alluding to their fondness for drinking tea in Barrow’s Stores near the school and, secretly, in the school library. The film Tolkien is much more about the young Tolkien, having meetings with his T.C.B.S. friends and then having to fight in World War I, and losing most of his close acquaintances as a result.

The teenager Tolkien (Harry Gilby) was at first a shy kid at King Edward’s School in Birmingham, England. Having moved there from Bloemfontein, South Africa where the family was living prior to Tolkien’s father’s death, his mother Mabel (Laura Donnelly) and brother Hilary Tolkien (played in youth by Guillermo Bedward and as an adult by James MacCallum) were new to Birmingham and didn’t have the means to live a comfortable live but were provided assistance by the Roman Catholic church. After Mabel’s death, Father Francis Morgan (Colm Meaney) took on the responsibility of guardianship of J. R. R. Tolkien, and advised him even during his years at Exeter College, Oxford. At the age of 16, Tolkien met Edith Mary Bratt (Lily Collins), who was three years his senior, when he and his brother Hilary moved into the boarding house where she lived in Duchess Road, Edgbaston. Tolkien falls in love with Edith, but is soon off to fight in World War I, leaving Edith for the time being.

While Tolkien is off fighting in the battles of World War I, he experiences first had the horrors of war, the death and destruction are just beneath his feet. He is shown throughout the film in the battle trenches and on the battle fields, fighting his own battles with trench fever. The scenes of battle, fire and death are what some believe gave him the inspiration for Mordor, the dark place where the arch-villain Sauron lives in the fictional world of Middle-earth, as told in the books of The Lord of the Rings. Tolkien is taken back to England and spends time at the hospital recovering and being back with Edith, but he also looses his close friends Geoffrey Bache Smith (Anthony Boyle) and Robert Q. Gilson (Patrick Gibson). His other friend and fellow T.C.B.S. member Christopher Wiseman (Tom Glynn-Carney) also comes back from war, but has many mental scars and never fully recovers from his wounds.

In the third act of the film, we see that Tolkien has married Edith and is starting to embrace fatherhood. He also meets with Geoffrey Bache Smith’s mother (Genevieve O’Reilly) and convinces her to publish some of Geoffrey’s poetry as a token to his memory. Part of Tolkien’s best memories before the war were spending time with his friends in the T.C.B.S. and forming what he later coined as the term “a fellowship” of friends. This is also the basis for the name of Tolkien’s first of three volumes in The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring.

Most casual fans of Tolkien, The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, might be a little disappointed in the film because it doesn’t have any of the fairytale or imaginative qualities that the fictional volumes that Tolkien wrote have. What the film does have are two strong performances by two young but compelling actors; Nicholas Hoult and Lily Collins. Their chemistry does not feel like its forced or out of place, and both help one another out by being interesting when sometimes the dialogue given to them is less so. I also especially like the moments when the young actors of Tolkien’s schoolboy life are on screen, headed by Harry Gilby, they form the Tea Club with fellow actors Adam Bregman, Albie Marber and Ty Tennant. These kids seem far more sophisticated and scholarly than normal kids, drinking tea at Barrow’s Stores and dreaming of worlds beyond their own.

Overall, this rather unimaginative film has a few shining moments, headlined by Hoult and Collins onscreen together. Strong followers of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit might find deeper meaning in Tolkien’s life, but otherwise most audience members will be left empty-handed in understanding what really went on in Tolkien’s mind and how he was able to write such epic high fantasy novels. Maybe, just maybe, that part is up to us and in our imagination.


Have you seen TOLKIEN? Well, what did you think?