By Ethan Lauren
“Last Night in Soho” marks Edgar Wright’s attempt at a new genre for himself, having stayed previously within action or comedy, albeit with supernatural elements. Clunky and unclear at times, the movie still shines brightly from Wright’s humor and care for details.
Thomasin McKenzie plays Eloise, a young woman from a rural area starting fashion school in London. A lover of old music, she is also warm and introverted, unwise to no-good city folk such as her roommate. Looking for solace, she moves into an apartment owned by Diana Rigg’s character. It’s a fine enough place for a young student, but the only problem is that come night Eloise gets transported to the 1960s, tethered to an aspiring actress, played by Anya Taylor-Joy. As Eloise becomes more invested in the past then her present, the borders between the two become hazy.
McKenzie deserving to be a star is the strongest opinion I had coming out of the theater. She’s going to do great things, and anybody interested should start a betting pool to see how long it takes Marvel Studios to sweep her up. This is very specific, but a certain percentage of this film has Eloise looking like Jenny from Gossip Girl and I couldn’t stop thinking about that. Maybe that says more about me than the movie.
Obnoxious side-characters are given little more than to bully our main character. There is a man who insults The Kinks, one of the most shocking insults I have ever seen on the silver screen. One highlight is Rigg, a posthumous release for the actress, she gives a standout performance. Despite being predominantly marketed, Taylor-Joy is given little to work with and serves as merely a step above eye candy for the majority of the film. Additionally, Matt Smith is great, as always, for fans of his.
The set-up of the film felt like a traditional slasher, to which it wasn’t. Psychological elements, mostly following a traditional thriller or mystery, came and went erratically, slowing down for scenes that would have felt more natural for his comedic wheelhouse.
It’s evident that Wright has worked on music videos, and many of the shots are staged fantastically, but transitioning that to a full-length movie showed evident growing pains. Modern horror films like “Hereditary” or the remake of “Suspiria” lean heavily on creative visuals, but even at this film’s most horrific imagery I merely found myself wanting to return to the story. Many of the shots felt as if obligatory for what a scary movie should have. Blood is used nicely, but those queasy over it might want to avert their eyes.
Where “Last Night in Soho” succeeds is the beautiful replication of London in the 1960s. Warm lighting, colorful clothing, smoke hanging in the air—all bring a wonderful atmosphere, but those looking for an escapist look into the past will be disappointed by how quickly that aspect goes away to the present day. The end result is the film makes it hard to connect with either timeline.
The soundtrack of classic songs, from The Kinks to Dusty Springfield are great, and worked wonderfully into the movie, a consistent positive of Wright’s filmography. “Baby Driver” is most likely the pinnacle of editing a film to the soundtrack, but there are a lot of fun segments here to watch for.
To further avoid any spoiling, one aspect that did not quite work was how mental health came across, seemingly more of a contrivance for the plot when convenient. Earlier works by Wright such as “The World’s End” or “Shaun of the Dead” felt more nuanced in their exploration of issues—alcoholism and commitment, respectively.
A man beside me fell asleep halfway through, and I could hardly blame him. Come the credits, somebody behind me turned to his friend as the credits began and said, “I hated that.” But then, tossing the popcorn away, I heard a woman express how much she loved it to her party.
The end result for the film is that it made people have a reaction—save the sleeping man—and that’s more so than many films can say for themselves. “Last Night in Soho” is an interesting addition to Wright’s filmography, one that might need age to properly bring out all the fine tannins lingering about.