Edgar Wright is no stranger to the genre of horror. Starting with Shaun of the Dead, he sprinkled in scares, gore, and intense editing throughout the Cornetto trilogy. The stories Wright has told always had some ghoulish intention to them (save for Baby Driver). But besides Shaun of the Dead, Wright hasn’t really had the opportunity to really sink his teeth into a horror project. That all changes with Last Night in Soho. Directed by Wright and co-written by Wright and Krysty Wilson-Cairns, Last Night in Soho is a clear passion project for the director. The film is a love letter to 60’s London – and Soho in particular – that weaves in and out of the past to deliver a thrilling and sometimes terrifying film.
Much like his other films, Wright packs in a whole lot of style. With a vibrant score and a swinging 60’s soundtrack, Last Night in Soho is a real treat. The film tells the story of fashion student Eloise (Thomasin McKenzie), who finds herself transported to 1960’s London in the body of nightclub singer Sandie (Anya Taylor-Joy). I can’t say anything else without giving up crucial plot details. However, you don’t need to know much else to become engrossed in the film. Wright and co. have crafted an exquisite tale that isn’t short on thrills or scares. The production feels like something from another era, with the filmmaking techniques and practical effects delivering an authentic 60’s experience.
Cinematographer Chung Chung-hoon helps to deliver the authenticity. The film is littered with in-camera effects to make everything feel real because, well, most of what we’re seeing is actually happening. The production design gets everything feeling as real to the 60’s time period as well as possible. Overall, the first half of Last Night in Soho is slick, stylish, and wildly entertaining. McKenzie and Taylor-Joy work in tandem as two different leads with such staggeringly different performances. It could have been very easy for Wright to go for more of the same with both the leads. That isn’t the case, as each brings her own unique flair to the table. While McKenzie delivers a nuanced performance, Taylor-Joy does the opposite and delivers one extravagant and vivid performance.
Wright also handles tonal shifts with incredible precision. While the first half is ominous, things don’t get truly unsettling until around the halfway point of the film. Touting some incredible editing and needle drops, Last Night in Soho goes full thriller as Eloise’s life begins to unravel. The lines between past and present, reality and fiction, begin to blur. What could have been a by-the-numbers paranormal horror turns into an engaging investigative psychological thriller. Wright doesn’t hold the audience’s hand through most of it, and things that you once found charming soon take a terrifying turn.
Matt Smith is a highlight of the past sections of the film. His character evokes everything that Wright seems to be going for in the 60’s storyline. The chemistry between him and Taylor-Joy is what makes or breaks the film, and luckily it elevates the performances of everyone around him. Eloise has her own supporting cast that brings much-needed levity in between tense or terrifying moments and helps to build on the empathy we feel for Eloise and her struggles in this film.
Although the film boasts a tight script, there are some pacing issues towards the middle half of the film, unfortunately. While the production design and brilliant practical effects sell you on the dual life Eloise gets to visit at night, there are still some unexplained occurrences in the film that may leave some viewers confused. Still, those complaints hardly warrant someone to miss out on a film that is so different from any of Wright’s previous work. Last Night in Soho may not be all there narratively but it is still an incredibly engaging watch.
Last Night in Soho also has some particularly poignant themes on over-romanticizing the past as well. Eloise is a character enamored by another era, wanting almost nothing to do with the present that she is stuck in. This may be some meta-commentary on Wright’s own filmography as well, as the filmmaker has paid a lot of homage to films of the past in his previous work. It is with Last Night in Soho that Wright is able to forge a new distinct vision. McKenzie, Taylor-Joy, and the rest of the cast inhabit this bold new vision Wright has created. And in turn, we get one of the more thrilling and different projects this year. I, for one, can’t wait to see what Wright does after this. – Ernesto Valenzuela
Last Night in Soho Releases in Theaters October 29th.