Even for being Edgar Wright’s weakest picture to date, Last Night in Soho still has its own darkly slick charm.
Last Night in Soho (2021) Review By Mark McPherson
Published on October 29, 2021
Rating 3.5 /5
Edgar Wright is a director most people know for his giddy action romps. Whether it's the ridiculous zombie antics of Shaun of the Dead or the video game style adventure of Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, there’s always this sense of exciting and fast-paced thrills punched with powerful absurdity. It’s for this reason that Last Night in Soho may be his toughest film to recommend. It has all the same style of direction and editing but takes the route of supernatural horror with far more terror than exaggerated bombastic thrills.
Ellie Turner (Thomasin McKenzie) is a young fashion designer with big dreams of success in London. She’s semi-haunted by the loss of her mother as her grandmother cares for her in a quiet village. Though Ellie is excited to finally be attending design college in the big city, her nan is not as enthused. She tries to stress that Ellie needs to be cautious of the creepy men that may lurk in such an urban setting. Ellie thinks little of this until she arrives in the city with a cab driver who makes way more sexual comments than she’s comfortable with.
Her time in the city only grows worse when her dorm room is filled with snooty students who look down on Ellie for making her own clothes. Finding little privacy and comfort, Ellie tries to find an apartment to bunk at instead of the dorms. She happens upon an old house maintained by the elderly Ms. Collins (Diana Rigg). Though Collins is rather strict with renting a room, Ellie doesn’t mind. She keeps to herself and prefers to just stay in and listen to her favorite retro records from the 1960s.
Ellie finds herself so fascinated with the 1960s that her first night in her new place leads to a wild dream. She dreams of occupying the body of Sandie (Anya Taylor-Joy), a stylish singer and dancer of the 1960s. She accompanies Sandie in reflection and possession as the gorgeous blonde saunters into a swanky club and quickly draws the eyeballs of the intrigued playboy Jack (Matt Smith). The two hit it off with a fun night of dancing and drinking as Jack speaks about having enough connections to get Sandie up on the stage of clubs. It’s a fascinating dream for Ellie who finds herself adoring the 60s.
The dreams continue, however, and Ellie starts realizing that these dreams are not just fantasies. She starts recognizing common London locations in her dreams and comes to realize she’s witnessing the communications of a spirit who once lived in her room. The dreams also grow darker as Ellie watches helplessly as Sandie is abused by Jack and forced into the role of a prostitute where she sleeps with many men. The past continues to haunt Ellie to the point where she starts seeing ghosts follow her around. She may not be ready for the truth she unearths to solve the mystery and put an end to being haunted.
The film proceeds with a great atmosphere and Wright’s penchant for clever camera work. The 1960s club sequences with Sandie are pretty astounding for sequences where Ellie slips in and out of scenes. One of the best scenes features Sandie dancing with Jack as the blonde transitions in and out of becoming the brunette of Ellie. The use of color and playful use of the retro soundtrack is pretty eerily beautiful while still being genuinely terrifying.
The major issue with the picture is the third act twist that turns the story on its head a bit. While the reveal behind Sandie’s past is surprising, it also mixes up the message of the picture a little bit in its attempt to subvert Ellie’s expectations. This development transforms the picture from a supernatural murder mystery into a trippy psychological horror and the whiplash it brings is certainly going to turn off a lot of viewers.
Even for being Edgar Wright’s weakest picture to date, Last Night in Soho still has its own darkly slick charm. The focus on nostalgia being dangerous is fascinating and Wright certainly hasn’t lost his touch for vibrant visuals and brisk editing. It’s also by far his best looking film. When it comes to its greater messaging, however, there’s a bit more to be desired from this surreal mixture of 60s swing and supernatural terror.
Mark has been a professional film critic for over five years and a film lover all his life.