Last Night in Soho steps into theaters this weekend and brings with it all the sensational style of its 1960s London setting. The swinging ’60s is only half of the story, though, with the movie bouncing back and forth between the past and present. Last Night in Soho is a supernatural horror, time travel mystery, and psychological thriller, all wound tightly together. It’s also a dreamy fairy tale, hearkening back to a bygone era and romanticizing it with a heady dose of nostalgia. But like all good fairy tales, Last Night in Soho is also a cautionary tale, exposing the darkness found in the shadows cast by the city’s bright lights.
Ellie (Thomasin McKenzie) is a young woman with an obsessive love of the 1960s who wants to become a famous fashion designer. She also has a strange sixth sense that make her sensitive to the supernatural. After being accepted at a London fashion school, Ellie moves from the countryside to the city where she ends up renting a room in Soho. At night when she dreams, Ellie is transported back in time to 1965 London and into the body of an aspiring singer, Sandie (Anya Taylor-Joy). And at first, the nighttime trips are magical, giving Ellie an escape from her taxing time at school. But when Sandie’s life takes a dark turn it begins affecting Ellie in the present day in some truly horrifying ways.
Last Night in Soho is easily Edgar Wright’s most ambitious film to date, building off the new territory he explored in the excellent Baby Driver and again proving he’s capable of so much more than quippy comedies. It’s gripping and at times terrifying, but it’s also a thought-provoking look at ambition and obsession and the risks of romanticizing the past.
Wright co-wrote Last Night in Soho with Krysty Wilson-Cairns, and her impact on the film is obvious. Through its two female leads, Last Night in Soho is very aware of how women experience the world, how they must move through it, and how it can be especially cruel to and controlling of them simply because they’re women. That it’s all so deftly handled is surely thanks to Wilson-Cairns, but it also speaks well of Wright that he sought her out to collaborate on the script in the first place.
As those two leads, Thomasin McKenzie and Anya Talyor-Joy are excellent. Both have enjoyed recent success, with McKenzie in Jojo Rabbit and Taylor-Joy The Queen’s Gambit, but Last Night in Soho is sure to bring them both much more acclaim. McKenzie is so natural in her performance as Ellie, at first so naive and unsure but she grows more confident as she’s faced with real terrors. Taylor-Joy by comparison is poised right from the get-go, but she also brings a deep sadness to Sandie that’s haunting. They’re joined by Matt Smith in a daring performance that’s suave but also really unlikable, as is surely intended. Terence Stamp and Diana Rigg round out the main cast and both are unsurprisingly superb. Their roles are smaller but no less important, and Rigg especially gives a great performance in what is her final film role.
Wright’s usual visual flair is here infused with the glamour of 1960s London and soaked in neon light to create a mood that is fun and frenetic, but also frightening. Wright and cinematographer Chung-hoon Chung do a marvelous job at presenting the city as both opulent and seedy. Some shots are stunning views of Soho brimming with nightlife, a giant James Bond looking on as revelers come and go from the famed Café de Paris. Other times, it’s a suffocating shot of some dank alley where it feels like Jack the Ripper could turn up at any moment. Filming in Soho itself certainly helps with the authenticity, as the film uses London’s own streets and clubs and pubs as the backdrops to its chilling tale.
The most impressive camera-work, however, comes in the shifting between Ellie and Sandie. While the former is inhabiting the latter’s life, she still occasionally appears as herself in the past, frequently reflected back at Sandie in a mirror. Digital effects are certainly used for some of these shots, but quite a few of the visual tricks are created in-camera, blending the two characters into one through seamless transitions. These shots are necessary for building the connection between the two women, but given their difficulty, they also speak to how Wright continues to push himself as filmmaker.
Perhaps least surprising of all is Last Night in Soho‘s killer soundtrack. Edgar Wright has always used music to great effect in all his movies, and here he goes one step further by making it essential to the story. Without its soundtrack, Last Night in Soho would lose a lot of its luster. Taylor-Joy even sings a couple tracks herself – “Downtown”, heard in the film, and “You’re My World” over the credits – and she blends perfectly alongside the singers of the ’60s.
Last Night in Soho is stylish and spooky and really winds up being a great Halloween movie (even if its original release wasn’t meant for this time of year). It has a great twist that while not wholly unexpected, does only begin coming to light moments before the characters themselves are putting it together. The film is unlike anything Edgar Wright has done before and it again proves he’s among the most exciting filmmakers working today. Last Night in Soho is a smashing good time, equally thrilling and enchanting and I already can’t wait to watch it again.