Edgar Wright strikes new ground in his latest movie, the vibrant psychological thriller “Last Night in Soho.” The film follows a determined young woman named Eloise, who, enamored with the aesthetics and music of the ’60s, decides to move from the English countryside to London to attend college and pursue a career in fashion. After her new flatmates reject her for her demure, introspective demeanor, Eloise rents a local room with a sordid past. She begins experiencing vivid dreams of a ʼ60s nightclub singer named Sandie, and soon the lines between Eloise’s dreams and reality—and those between her existence and Sandie’s—start to blur. The magical realism of Eloise’s entry into ’60s London soars through music, neon colors and romance for the majority of the film and arrives at a satisfying, albeit uneven, conclusion.
To understand how “Last Night in Soho” stands out from Wright’s previous filmography, it is important to analyze some of his prior movies. The “Cornetto” trilogy (“Hot Fuzz,” “Shaun of the Dead” and “The World’s End”) chronicles pub-crawling adventures through the absurd. With biting, dark English wit, these movies reveal Wright’s genuine love for the film history they parody. Wright’s confidence and eye for style deepen in his next works, “Scott Pilgrim vs. The World” and “Baby Driver,” two in-your-face movies that embrace aesthetic as equal to narrative. “Scott Pilgrim” flaunts cartoonish onomatopoeia graphics and bolts of sketched energy; similarly, the songs featured in “Baby Driver” both set an active tempo and comprise the titular character’s iPod playlist. It seemed Wright would cannibalize himself with style over substance—yet, “Last Night in Soho” proves stylistically understated and directionally efficient. The movie aligns with his characteristic tropes—diegetic music, saturated colors and a Romanticist protagonist. However, in many respects, it is Wright’s most radical departure to date.
Wright embraces a female-centered universe, straying from the decidedly masculine perspectives of his previous projects. “Baby Driver” operates in a male-dominated criminal underworld where women rarely hold operative roles; “Scott Pilgrim” centers on an insecure lead fighting to win literal ownership of an idealized girl. Finally, the “Cornetto” trilogy follows the washed-up, gun-in-one-hand, beer-mug-in-the-other exploits of two men, an intentional ode to ambitionless masculinity. “Last Night in Soho” represents a jump forward for Wright, focusing on young, ambitious women navigating an intimidating, sexist London. Before any premonitions or mind-bending twists, a creepy cab driver almost kidnaps Eloise, grounding the film in the reality of the tangible threats that women face everyday. The plot’s first half embodies an allegory for how challenges women must deal with manifest in extreme emotional distress that may limit their ambition. However, the movie’s second half literally flips the script—female representation changes from victim to femme fatale, so capable and self-sufficient they become lethal, empowered and delightfully feminist. Although “Last Night in Soho” is a genre film, a category which normally dodges meaningful messaging, Wright is not tone-deaf, and his increased female representation injects every facet of the film with gendered subtext. It also helps that the film has an incredible female cast—Thomasin McKenzie and Anya Taylor-Joy are electrifying as dual protagonists, while the recently deceased Diana Rigg gives the most captivating performance of the movie.
“Last Night in Soho” slowly morphs into a quasi-horror movie, showing us that it is not all oldies and far-flung dreams in North London. The mood evolves from mystery and exciting possibility to a feeling of dread. Unfortunately, this transition feels like a misstep. While this is a surefire tonal build for most horror films, after Eloise’s enchanting time travel to the ’60s, the final act becomes formulaic, adhering to genre conventions such as images of zombie-like characters that we’ve seen before (namely, in “Shaun of the Dead”). The movie is a product of genre—it resembles Dario Argento’s “Suspiria,” which also follows a young woman moving to the city for artistic pursuits and encountering the supernatural, and confirmedly draws from other Italian shocker films such as “Blood and Black Lace”—but only at the conclusion did this homage turn from inspiration into a plot-progression guidebook, still enjoyable if a bit more uninspired.
Overall, “Last Night in Soho” is a fantastic Kinks-era film with a few kinks of its own to work out. Wright’s self-awareness is refreshing, the movie looks and sounds wonderful with a unique Steven Price score and notwithstanding critical analysis, it’s a really enjoyable watch.
My Rating: 8/10