Last Night in Soho

Last Night in Soho – a neon-lit love letter that never quite finds its horror voice.


BFI London Film Festival presents Last Night in Soho; in cinemas nationwide from October 29th

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Edgar Wright has dabbled in horror for a long time – Shaun of the Dead is a valentine to the zombie genre, and Hot Fuzz is part-slasher part-Wicker Man. However, Wright has never fully embraced the genre because his postmodern, self-aware style often forecloses any genuine scares or shocks. So when his first post-Baby Driver project was announced as a return to Horror, this time in full, many became feverishly excited for what delightful frights Wright had in store. With his hints of a Don’t Look Now tone and style alongside the Swinging Sixties focus, it sounded like a modern British horror that paid homage to its elders of yesteryear. Last Night in Soho certainly does drip style in abundance, but perhaps it’s a little too abundant.

Thomasin McKenzie plays our country bumpkin Eloise, a Cornish girl with latent psychic abilities and an obsession for all things the 1960s, especially fashion. It’s possible McKenzie is in fear of being typecast as the typical young teenager, but she’s perfectly cast in Last Night even down to the age (both actor and character, eighteen). Eloise’s quiet reserve and slightly-awkward demeanour are skilfully reflected in McKenzie’s portrayal, like a quiet country mouse overcome by the sheer magnitude of the metropolitan capital. The city is overwhelming, but the people are less so – Synnøve Karlsen’s infinitely-grating Jocasta is a hilariously relatable ‘it’ girl with a fatal diagnosis of Main Character Syndrome. There’s also newcomer Michael Ajao’s John, the romantic foil to Jocasta’s cliquey malice. Disappointingly, both seem deliberately employed to push the narrative along, counteracting each other to push Eloise further. It seems that everyone Wright introduces in his first act is a mere narrative chess piece he can manipulate to get us where we need to go.

Once we are finally into the Swinging Sixties, it’s clear this is where Wright wants to play. Neon lights and nightclub stage lights drape scenes in a giallo-esque glow while the melodically enchanting ‘60s soundtrack imbues us with a similar sense of nostalgia to Eloise. When Anya Taylor-Joy finally appears on screen, it is a revelation. Everything about her screams ‘60s movie starlet, perfectly encapsulating Sandie without even uttering a word. Her presence grips you like a velvet vice, bewitched by her every move and sentence. There’s something about Taylor-Joy that has encapsulated the world, and Wright seems to amplify this in Soho, understanding the true theatrical weapon that is Anya Taylor-Joy.

Last Night in Soho

Chung Chung-hoon’s cinematography captures the psychological melding of Eloise and Sandie through this mirrored doubling, a Duck Soup gag turned psychological. Chung-hoon gradually warps this funhouse trick into a transparent cage, locking Eloise and Sandie away from one another. This is where Wright’s kinetic style picks up once more, if only fleetingly – Taylor Joy’s dance with Matt Smith’s nefarious Jack throws Eloise in, and out of the action, with every visually exciting sway. When Eloise’s psychological grip begins to weaken, Chung-hoon leans in as colours scream and bleed down the screen, shots kaleidoscoping into a hundred iterations of themselves. It’s when Sandie begins to lose her grip on herself and reality that really delivers a visual feast, as scenes blur into one another more and more, fighting each other for their own moment.

It’s clear that Last Night in Soho is Wright’s deliberate attempt to break out of the mould he’s created over the last two decades, as he sheds the hyper-kinetic style, as well as placing a woman as his lead for the first-ever time. It’s always refreshing to see a director attempt to break new ground; however, in doing so, Wright loses the punchy dynamism and adopts a simplistic, by-the-numbers script instead. Eloise is subjected to the ever-so-stereotypical debate of, “Is this really happening, or is it just mental collapse?” One of the most tired narrative cliches of modern horror. There are also elements of Eloise that aren’t elaborated on, such as her sixth sense – how can she see her mother? Why is she even there?

Wright’s penchant for the hedonistic and whimsical Sixties stylings has left him unable to truly justify much of the endgame of Last Night in Soho. Some narrative beats are seen coming from a mile away, whilst others leave you scratching your head as to their point beyond a quick ‘Oh, wow!’ Much of the true horror comes from a direction that feels uncomfortable and perhaps not Wright’s place to tread. Those who are aware of Soho’s history will understand what may be being alluded to. It’s simply quite unusual for a director with such an understanding of genre conventions and stereotypes to fall into those same cliches and tropes themselves. Wright’s valentines feel intelligent because of that self-referentiality, and perhaps that’s what is missing here.

Unfortunately, Last Night in Soho is not the Soho spooktacular that I had been hoping for – instead, it feels like a director who wanted to play in the Sixties and ultimately rushed to get there before his ideas were fully formed. While it’s Wright’s weakest feature, it’s by no means a bad film. In a way, it’s a perfect metaphor for a night out in Soho – it starts wonderfully and with excited anticipation, then you drink one too many stylish cocktails, and your night is over before it’s begun.

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