Time: 116 Minutes
Age Rating: Violence, sexual violence, offensive language & content that may disturb
Thomasin McKenzie as Eloise “Ellie” Turner
Anya Taylor-Joy as Sandie
Matt Smith as Jack
Michael Ajao as John
Terence Stamp as Lindsay
Diana Rigg as Alexandra Collins
Director: Edgar Wright
An aspiring fashion designer (Thomasin McKenzie) is mysteriously able to enter the 1960s, where she encounters a dazzling wannabe singer (Anya Taylor-Joy). However, the glamour is not all it appears to be, and the dreams of the past start to crack and splinter into something far darker.
Last Night in Soho was one of my most anticipated movies of 2021. Along with a cast that includes Thomasin McKenzie and Anya Taylor-Joy, it’s Edgar Wright’s latest film. While I’m not a massive fan of his non-Cornetto trilogy movies, the premise sounded quite intriguing, and I was interested to see him take on a full-on horror movie. I heard some mixed things from people about the movie before going into it, which was surprising considering most people seem to love his films. While I do like the movie, I agree with most of the criticisms its been receiving.
The first half actually started off quite well for me, despite some issues. You do notice a distinct difference from Wright’s other movies, definitely less quippy and witty, and with less humour. I don’t have a problem with this though, this is a different sort of Wright movie. Not only that, but the attempts of humour in the film don’t hit at all so decreasing the amount of humour was only for the film’s benefit. Wright is more subdued here, I might be in a minority here but I appreciate him trying something different. When it gets to lead character Eloise (Thomasin McKenzie) beginning to when visions of the 1960s and seeing Sandie (Anya Taylor-Joy), that’s where it really picks up. This is where the film is at its peak, it was intriguing and held my attention. Something I do like is that its going back to a setting with nostalgia (particularly a setting that Eloise has nostalgia for), only to show the seedy and dark side of it. It is a cautionary tale about the dangerous of romanticising the past and I do like that idea (even though the execution is not the best).
Then the second half happens. The plot stops being interesting or intriguing as Eloise goes through a descent into madness as she sees visions and ghosts, and we see less of the 60s setting. I think its at this point where I realised that I was more interested in the 60s plotline, and Eloise’s story wasn’t that interesting on its own. It definitely tries to have twists and turns but by this point the twists are very easy to predict. Last Night in Soho is a horror movie and its this second half where you really feel it. I’m not inherently against horror movies not scaring me, since only a few really scare me. However the horror falls shockingly flat, even Wright delivered better results with Shaun of the Dead. I distinctly remember the point that the film started to go downhill for the moment it introduces jumpscares and ghosts that haunt Eloise. Wright must think they are scary because he places these ghosts throughout this second half, and none of them are scary in the slightest. Maybe if it was intended to be camp then they would’ve worked, but Wright is aiming for genuine horror, and as a result it just comes across as really silly (in a bad way). While jumpscares can be used effectively, all of them feel completely clunky here. Even the gore and violence (and this is Wright’s most violent film) doesn’t really have any impact despite it intending to be shocking. The closest the film gets to being scary is a scene halfway through the movie where Eloise/Sandie is running through a club, and it does well at being effectively unsettling and creepy. Outside of that, none of the horror hits.
As the movie enters into its second half, it touches on some really heavy material which I won’t mention by name for the sake of spoilers. It’s certainly ambitious to tackle difficult subject matter like those as long as enough depth is given to it, but the handling felt rather careless and glib here, particuarly with some of the horror sequences. Initially I was wondering whether I was just thinking too deep into it, until I reached the third act. Speaking of the third act, it’s been said by others that this is where it’ll make or break the film for many. I wouldn’t say it breaks the movie for me as I still like it overall. I will say that it certainly breaks the chance of me looking back at the plot in a positive way. It reveals its predicted twist and then rushes its way into a climax. While I predicted the twist earlier on, what followed the twist was something I didn’t predict because it was quite possibly the worst direction you could take the story in after everything that came before. The situation in the climax already feels contrived, forced and avoidable. However, even the simplistic message gets completely confused with the direction it takes in the third act, and just feels misguided at best, tone deaf at worst. Even the ending made me confused as to what kind of movie it was supposed to be, and not in a good way.
This has to be some of the worst character work that Edgar Wright has done. The characters are 2 dimensional and feel like stock roles to fill rather than believable people. The innocent girl, the creepy old man, the mean girls, etc. So it is a credit to the cast that they pulled off good performances playing them. Thomasin McKenzie plays the lead character Eloise and she’s fantastic in this part. While I was not that invested in Eloise’s journey in the second half, McKenzie’s performance kept me on board with the character and with what she was doing. Anya Taylor-Joy is also excellent, embodying her character very well. In a way you could say that she’s underutilised given that she’s only seen during the visions and time travel scenes. However she is great and her presence is felt throughout. Other supporting actors are great too, especially Matt Smith, Terence Stamp, and Diana Rigg in her final performance.
Edgar Wright directs and you do feel it, though refreshingly he does pull back on some of his filmmaking trademarks. For example the editing is still sharp but isn’t as snappy like his previous movies, and I appreciate him being more restrained with it. It is visually stunning to watch with Chung-hoon Chung’s cinematography, I particularly liked the use of colour. It is far Edgar Wright’s best looking movie. The recreation of the 60s time period is solid too, especially with the production designs, costumes and more. I like how they show the time travel, sometimes having Eloise and Sandie in the same room with Eloise being an observer, sometimes Eloise seeing Sandie in her reflection in the mirror. The soundtrack is great as expected given that this is an Edgar Wright movie, the score from Steven Price is also great and fits the tone of the film really well.
I do like Last Night in Soho but it’s by far Edgar Wright’s messiest and most frustrating movie. It’s a shame because the first half showed itself to be a film with great potential, but the second half squandered all of that by the end. Even outside of the plot, there’s still a lot of issues. The characters are rather flat and one note, and the attempts at horror don’t succeed at all. However, I still like the film generally. The first half is good especially the glimpses into the 60s, the visuals and soundtrack are nice, and the actors are great in their parts, especially Thomasin McKenzie and Anya Taylor-Joy. For what it’s worth, I do think it’s the best of Edgar Wright’s non-Cornetto movies, though I’m not in love with Baby Driver or Scott Pilgrim as much as other people. It’s not really a movie I want to revisit anytime soon, if only because I feel like my thoughts on it will sour even further. With all that being said, I do think it’s at least worth watching.