Last Night in Soho Review
It’s hard to leave home, especially when that home is all you’ve ever known. Frequently throughout Edgar Wright’s latest pastiche of varying influences, the main character of Last Night in Soho is broken down by the elements around her. In order to achieve her dreams, she’s forced to leave the comfort of her rural life and embark alone on a journey through London. What begins as a promising exploration of that discomfort of leaving home combined with a character being taxed mentally by a sudden influx of stress, devolves into a murder mystery where narrative influences deteriorate the impact of Wright and co-writer Krysty Wilson-Cairns’ horror screenplay.
Last Night in Soho is composed of so many influences within sixties horror, but none more prominently than Roman Polanski’s Repulsion. As opposed to Wright’s previous films that were noteworthy additions to the genres they reference – Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz in particular – Last Night in Soho feels so indebted to its references that it ends up only making an impact visually. Even then, some of those visuals feel almost wholly lifted from the other, better movies Wright obviously is trying to pay homage to. Other than Repulsion, the film frequently feels like someone’s best attempt at a live-action adaptation of Satoshi Kon’s bleak and horrifying Perfect Blue.
The narrative never really breaks from these influences, cribbing heavily from each to create a hodgepodge of psychological horror. The moment Ellie Turner (Thomasin McKenzie) finds herself transported to 1960s London, she is confronted by her reflection in a nightclub that shows that she is witnessing this era of London through Sandie (Anya Taylor-Joy). A young woman with dreams of stardom, Sandie is quickly seduced by her new manager Jack (Matt Smith) and finds herself worn down by the extracurricular demands required to achieve success.
Last Night in Soho is essentially playing through two storylines, but unfortunately, the interesting storyline is the one left behind for a generic thriller centered around Sandie. Of course, it makes sense as Ellie has always been infatuated with London in the Swinging Sixties. She only listens to music of that era and moves to London in order to pursue a career in the fashion industry just as her mother had wanted to do before committing suicide during Ellie’s childhood. The prospect of being able to transport herself into that specific time and place when everything is so idyllic takes on addictive qualities.
This is where Last Night in Soho finds its most interesting ideas to explore: the attempt to maintain some normalcy and hold onto a piece of the past until it consumes you and you can’t make any forward progress. Ellie’s obsession with the sixties is exacerbated when she moves into an apartment, still furnished as if it never left the era she romanticizes, with only the landlord, Ms Collins (Diana Rigg in her final film role), occupying the room downstairs. When she sleeps, she’s fully transported to that seemingly safe space. What she doesn’t realize is that her romanticized ideas of that era are only surface deep and her dreams quickly turn into nightmares.
It’s a case of style over substance though once those nightmares start kicking into overdrive. As sure as the sun will set at the end of the day, Wright continues to have his heart in the right place and knows how to combine a catchy soundtrack with mesmerizing visuals, but it all feels muted and sterile here. The genres of horror that he is pulling from are not typically these slick moments strung together by music and quick edits. It all feels overly produced so once the film tries to shift into full-on horror, the question remains of what the point is in these visuals. It all boils down to the comfortable, safe spaces being torn asunder to continue preying on Ellie. A fact that the movie continues to drive home at every chance it can get.
Which leads into Last Night in Soho’s other issue: its characterizations. They’re so over-the-top that they don’t feel real. Whatever nuance was left of Ellie’s character is trimmed away with each push towards focusing on Sandie’s plotline, and Sandie is a caricature of her own. Worse is when the film attempts to discuss mental health and the importance of support systems and then drifts almost entirely away from the ideas presented.
The only upside of the film’s devotion to just having characters play up a single emotion throughout the whole film is that McKenzie and Taylor-Joy get to showcase their ability to captivate audiences even when the material fails them. McKenzie and Taylor-Joy chew through the film with intensity and confidence that help keep Last Night in Soho entertaining at the very least. The supporting cast is great all around, though it’s easier to get swept up in Terrence Stamp’s enigmatic sleaziness than Smith’s character’s filthy demeanor.
By the end, Last Night in Soho feels exploitative. It’s a film that seems like it has something meaningful to explore with mental illness, but then reveals that it only really wanted an excuse to blur the lines between reality and fiction. It works so long as you don’t care about coming back to that for character development after the film and instead just needed the same excuse to get to the incredible art direction and production design. It just all comes off as lazy and highlights the fact that Wright isn’t quite capable of handling heavy subject matter without sacrificing it in the name of style.