Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Edgar Wright
Stars: Thomasin McKenzie, Anya Taylor-Joy, Matt Smith, Diana Rigg, Terence Stamp, Margaret Nolan, Micahel Ajao, Rita Tushingham, Synnove Karlsen, Sam Claflin.
Last Night In Soho is the new film from filmmaker Edgar Wright (the superb Baby Driver, the so-called Cornetto trilogy, etc) and it is a dazzling mix of Italian Giallo styled mystery, coming of age tale, part urban horror and part supernatural ghost thriller. The film has clearly been inspired by such classic thrillers as Repulsion and Don’t Look Now, and is heavily steeped in 60s nostalgia.
Eloise Turner (New Zealand actress Thomasin McKenzie, from Old, The Power Of The Dog, etc) aspires to become a fashion designer. She is especially obsessed with the 60s, a period that marked London as a swinging capital of fashion and culture – her bedroom walls are adorned with posters of iconic 60s movies like Breakfast At Tiffanys, and she listens to 60s hits on her little record player. When she is awarded a scholarship to study at a prestigious London fashion school she jumps at the opportunity, despite the dire warnings of her grandmother (Rita Tushingham) that it was London that led to her mother’s death. There is the suggestion of a history of mental illness in the family that comes into play later.
Eloise moves to London and settles into a dormitory. But her narcissistic and obnoxious roommate, the shallow and looks obsessed Jacosta (Synnove Karlsen) and her partying, soon drives Eloise out to look for more private accommodation where she can concentrate on her studies. She rents the upstairs bedsit room in the house of the kindly but stern Mrs Collins (Diana Rigg in her final screen appearance), a long-time resident of the area. But Eloise soon finds herself troubled by disturbing dreams and visions of a less savoury Soho of the 60s, full of menace and undercurrents of violence. She particularly finds herself following a young performer named Sandie (Anya Taylor-Joy), who has come to London full of dreams of becoming a singer. But the cocky and predatory nightclub fixer Jack (Doctor Who’s Matt Smith, at his sleaziest) seems intent on seducing her into a darker world of illicit sex and prostitution. In her visions Eloise tries to warn Sandie and steer her away from following this destructive path.
Eloise initially draws upon her visions to shape her fashion designs, and she soon dyes her hair to resemble the Sandie of her dreams.
But her nightmares become more horrifying and intense and soon she becomes haunted by ghastly visions of the many men who abused Sandie. She also believes that she has witnessed Sandie’s brutal murder. Obsessed with the crime it becomes harder for her to distinguish between the real world and her visions, and she grows more agitated as she falls through the rabbit hole. She is also disturbed by the vaguely sinister presence of an elderly silver haired gentleman (Terence Stamp) who seems to be stalking her. Only her new best friend John (Michael Ajao) is sympathetic towards her troubled state.
Always a visual story teller, Wright’s direction here is quite stylish, and he uses some clever visual tricks and mirrors rather than CGI to juxtapose Eloise within Sandie’s glamourous world of night clubs and bright lights of the red-light district of 60s Soho, but he also depicts the darker side beneath the glittering surface. The film is quite atmospheric, and Wright effectively builds an air of foreboding and tension that ultimately gives way to a crescendo of violence and bloody horror by the climax. The script was written by Wright in collaboration with Krysty Wilson Carnes (1917, etc) and has been shaped by Wright’s own obsession with 60s London and works as an homage to Soho itself.
Both McKenzie and Taylor-Joy deliver strong and emotionally wrought performances as the complex and troubled protagonists of this unsettling story. Smith brings a mix of the suave and the sleazy to his performance. Wright has deliberately cast 60s cinema icons Stamp, Rigg and Tushingham (a staple of those bleak kitchen sink dramas that typified that era of British cinema) to lend verisimilitude to the material.
There is some superb production design from regular collaborator Marcus Rowland and great period detail, and the soundtrack itself is steeped in 60s hits from the likes of Dusty Springfield, Cilla Black and Sandie Shaw. And yes, that classic Barry Ryan hit Eloise gets a soundcheck in more ways than one! Last Night In Soho has been beautifully filmed by cinematographer Chung-hoon Chung (It, etc), who mixes horrific and violent images with visions of neon lit swinging London. The climactic scenes are bathed in an eerie red palette that makes them much more unsettling.