Last Night in Soho (2021)
Director: Edgar Wright
Screenwriters: Edgar Wright, Krysty Wilson-Cairns
Starring: Thomasin McKenzie, Anya Taylor-Joy, Matt Smith, Terrence Stamp, Diana Rigg, Rita Tushingham
Edgar Wright has long been interested in the horror genre, of course paying homage to and sending it up with his feature film debut, 2004’s Shaun of the Dead. He has spoken about his love for classics of the genre, especially John Landis’ An American Werewolf In London, and his latest feature (his first since 2017’s Baby Driver) is the psychological horror Last Night in Soho. This 2021 release plays out in a dual timeframe, with the bulk of its runtime set in present day London and a series of dream sequences taking us back to Swinging Sixties Soho.
This is Wright’s first direct foray into outright horror, and it’s clear that the filmmaker (who acts as director and co-screenwriter here) takes heavy inspiration from Roman Polanski’s Repulsion, Nicholas Roeg’s Venice-set Don’t Look Now and the Giallo horrors of Dario Argento in particular.
We follow fashion student Eloise (Thomasin McKenzie) who is obsessed with all things 60s and takes many of her grandmother’s records with her when she moves from Redruth in Cornwall to London. After moving into a lodging on Goodge Street, Eloise begins to have visions of the 1960s and a former inhabitant of her room, Sandie (Anya Taylor-Joy). What begins as a dive into the world of Eloise’s dreams takes a darker turn as we plunge into a world of mystery and dread, with no one being quite who they seem.
Last Night in Soho is a wonderful advert for Edgar Wright’s creativity as a director. The opening segment – set in the 1960s – shows Eloise walking through night-time Soho to the Café De Paris through a cinema ad-horned with a poster for 1965’s Thunderball. It’s mesmerising. There, Wright sets up an electric dance sequence featuring back and forth between Taylor-Joy and Mckenzie, with Matt Smith’s Jack featuring as a sleazy hang-around who acts as a manager and love interest for Taylor-Joy’s Sandie.
The performances are by and large one of the film’s highlights, with Thomasin McKenzie’s introverted Eloise offset by Anya Taylor-Joy’s outgoing aspiring singer Sandie. Terrence Stamp is given a late chance to shine as a broody and mysterious individual frequenting Soho’s Toucan bar, and we are also treated to a fine final performance from Diana Rigg who is central to the film’s plot.
Camera work from Park Chan-Wook’s cinematographer Chung-hoon Chung ensures this is one of Wright’s most visually arresting films. The clear love he holds for this time period and for Soho itself is apparent. The soundtrack is a stand out aspect of the film too, and arguably one of the best within Wright’s canon of work – which is of course quite the achievement given that he has a knack for finding the perfect music to match each of his films. We are treated to an array of 60s classics including music from The Kinks, Cilla Black, The Who and Dusty Springfield. Perhaps the most prominently used song is Petula Clark’s “Downtown”, which features in addition to Anya Taylor-Joy singing an acapella version.
The final act of the film has earned some criticism and is perhaps a jarring shift from the acts that have preceded it. While not entirely derailing the film, some of the story choices may seem questionable, especially in relation to the depiction of female violence. While this is certainly divisive, the majority of the film is an enjoyable transportation back to the 1960s.
If Last Night In Soho is not Edgar Wright’s finest moment as a director, it is a fine advert for his obvious qualities as a filmmaker, with the slow build-up of action creating an undercurrent of tension and showing his appreciation for the horror genre. The soundtrack and performances are pitch perfect and help to build a true sense of what the 1960s might have been like: glamorous on the surface but with something altogether more murky lurking underneath. If the final act doesn’t necessarily land some of the plot points teased earlier in the film, it shouldn’t ultimately prevent anyone from enjoying the film as a whole, Last Night in Soho being a loving ode to a time and place close to Edgar Wright’s heart.