Movie Review: ‘Last Night in Soho’

Director: Edgar Wright

Cast: Thomasin McKenzie, Anya Taylor-Joy, Matt Smith, Terence Stamp, Diana Rigg, Michael Ajao

Plot: Eloise is pursuing her dream of attending the London College of Fashion when she begins experiencing visions of Soho in the 1960s, an era she has been long inspired by. Her visions follow Sandie, an ambitious young singer who is preyed upon by manipulative and dangerous men.

Review: I don’t think anyone is enjoying 2021. A couple of bright spots has been a double-dose of Edgar Wright in our cinemas. His first forays into documentary and psychological thriller. His doco, The Sparks Brothers, was stupidly effective on me and everyone has had to put up with Sparks on constant rotation. Now we have Last Night in Soho, a psychological thriller that is a fair departure from Wright’s usual style. It’s drier, with less of the visual flair of his comedic output. There’s plenty of work done with colour and art design, but it’s the least recognisable as Wright’s work.

Between the premise and the casting, there should be more people excited for this. Eloise (McKenzie) is the country girl overwhelmed by the big city and bullied by her peers. Seeking a refuge, she moves into a bedsit in Soho, where she begins to have powerful and immersive visions on a nightly basis. She follows Sandie (Taylor-Joy), who dreams of being a singer but quickly become preyed on by from every direction by men seeking to use or manipulate her. Although initially inspired by the fashion and confidence of Sandie, Eloise begins to see the dangerous spiral her idol is in. She suspects that the dashing and connected Jack (Smith) has done something terrible to Sandie, and may still be around her neighbourhood.

This is a very cool cast. McKenzie – who we’re surprised to learn has a powerful Kiwi accent – has just come off Jojo Rabbit and seems completely at ease leading this ambitious project. She’s paired with Anya Taylor-Joy who has been in everything from New Mutants to The Queen’s Gambit and is a solid draw-card. Menacing them both is Matt Smith flexing some skills he may have picked up playing Patrick Bateman on stage. We have mixed feelings about The Doctor playing creepy characters, even if the contrast works in their favour. They’re always so bloody good at it, and this is no exception.

Perhaps because comedy doesn’t feature in the overall tone of this movie, and some themes certainly too grim to treat lightly, but the editing and visual flair Wright is best known for is toned down for this outing. Ellie’s nighttime outings to 1960s Soho are bathed in neon and features plenty of clever in-camera and editing tricks to capture the frequent use of mirrors and breaking mental state of the characters, but modern London is much more grounded. There are some sequences that would have required meticulous planning to execute, and the effort shows. There’s one dance sequence that features a sweeping camera and one dance partner changing characters when off camera, and we spent the whole drive home trying to puzzle out how it was achieved. Turns out it’s the product of careful choreography of the three performers and camera operator as McKenzie and Taylor-Joy switch places by ducking in and out of shot. Phenomenal effort from all involved.

With so much of the film working for use, from the performances and direction through to the concept and style, it’s surprising that it didn’t hit harder for us. The story beats are pretty familiar for a psychological thriller, and some plot threads are left hanging for a neatly closed ending. We’ll give it another look to find more clues as to the big reveal, but it may not get the same rate of play as Wright’s other works.

Rating: SEVEN out of TEN