Last night in Soho turns into a boiler murder mystery
Last night in Soho Review
It’s hard to leave home, especially when this home is all you’ve ever known. Frequently throughout the last pastiche of Edgar Wright with various influences, the main character of Last night in Soho is broken down by the elements that surround it. In order to make her dreams come true, she is forced to leave the comforts of her rural life and embark on a journey through London on her own. What begins as a promising exploration of that discomfort of leaving home combined with a character mentally taxed by a sudden onset of stress, turns into a murder mystery where narrative influences deteriorate the impact of Wright’s horror storyline and by co-writer Krysty Wilson-Cairns. .
Last night in Soho is made up of so many influences in ’60s horror, but none more important than that of Roman Polanski Repulsion. Unlike Wright’s previous films which were notable additions to the genres they refer to – Shaun of the Dead and Warm down specifically – Last night in Soho feels so indebted to his references that he ends up having only a visual impact. Even so, some of those visuals feel almost entirely detached from the rest, the best films that Wright is obviously trying to pay homage to. Other than Repulsion, the movie often feels like someone’s best attempt at a live-action adaptation of Satoshi Kon’s dark and gruesome Perfect blue.
The narrative never quite breaks with these influences, relying heavily on each to create a mishmash of psychological horror. As Ellie Turner (Thomasin McKenzie) finds herself transported to 1960s London, she is confronted with her reflection in a nightclub which shows that she is witnessing that London era through Sandie (Anya Taylor-Joy ). A young woman dreaming of fame, Sandie is quickly seduced by her new manager Jack (Matt Smith) and finds herself exhausted by the extracurricular demands necessary to succeed.
Last night in Soho basically plays through two storylines, but unfortunately the interesting storyline is the one left out for a generic Sandie-centric thriller. Of course, that makes sense because Ellie has always been infatuated with London in the Swinging Sixties. She listened to only music from that era and moved to London in order to pursue a career in the fashion industry as her mother had wanted before she committed suicide during Ellie’s childhood. The prospect of being able to transport yourself to this specific time and place where everything is so idyllic takes on addictive qualities.
It’s here that 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 move on. Ellie’s obsession with the sixties is heightened when she moves into an apartment, still furnished as if it had never left the time she’s romancing, with only the owner, Mrs. Collins (Diana Rigg in his last role in the cinema), occupying the room downstairs. When she sleeps, she is completely transported to this seemingly safe space. What she doesn’t realize is that her fictionalized ideas from that time are only superficial, and her dreams quickly turn into nightmares.
It’s a case of style rather than substance, but once those nightmares start to turn into overdrive. As sure as the sun sets 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 compelling visuals, but everything here feels muted and sterile. The horror genres it draws from aren’t usually those slick moments chained by music and quick edits. Everything seems too produced, so once the film tries to go all-out horror, the question remains what are these visuals for. It all comes down to the comfortable, safe spaces that are ripped apart to keep grappling with Ellie. A fact that the film continues to drive home whenever it gets the chance.
Which leads to Last night in SohoThe other problem: its characterizations. They are so over the top that they don’t feel real. Whatever nuance that remained of Ellie’s character is removed with every attempt to focus on Sandie’s plot, and Sandie is a caricature of her own. Worst of all is when the film attempts to discuss mental health and the importance of support systems, and then moves away almost entirely from the ideas presented.
The only benefit to the film’s devotion to having the characters play a single emotion throughout the film is that McKenzie and Taylor-Joy can show off their ability to captivate audiences even when the material is lacking. McKenzie and Taylor-Joy chew the movie with an intensity and confidence that helps keep Last night in Soho entertaining to say the least. The supporting cast is excellent all around, although it’s easier to get carried away by Terrence Stamp’s enigmatic slowness than the dirty demeanor of Smith’s character.
At the end, Last night in Soho feels exploitative. It’s a movie that seems to have something meaningful to explore with mental illness, but then reveals that it really only wanted an excuse to blur the lines between fact and fiction. It works as long as you don’t care to go back to that for character development after the movie and just need the same excuse to access the amazing art direction and production design. This all sounds lazy and highlights the fact that Wright isn’t quite able to handle a heavy subject without sacrificing it for the sake of style.