Last Night in Soho Movie Review: A visual feast and an affecting exploration of deep themes
This psychological horror is a beautifully shot and edited piece of art, with some extraordinary writing and performances
The past can be rosy… or haunting. In Edgar Wright's Last Night in Soho, the protagonist Eloise (Thomasin McKenzie, who might get nods in the top award ceremonies) grows up with a mirage of her dead mother. This ties into the character's arc in many ways, and it is this film’s self-awareness that makes it a compelling psychological horror film that has so much to unpack.
Eloise, who likes to be called Ellie, bids adieu to her grandmother and her country life, to chase her London dreams of becoming big in fashion designing. Enough films have shown how big cities have responded to people from small towns. Sure enough, Ellie's classmates bully her, and she leaves her hostel room in Soho to rent a small apartment in the locality. One night there, Ellie gets a vivid dream in which she wakes up in 1960s London in front of a theatre playing Sean Connery's Thunderball. She follows a young woman named Sandie (Anya Taylor-Joy) who strives to become a singer. Our protagonist is shown as an empath with an eye for detail, and Sandie becomes her muse. However, Ellie's obsession with this alternate reality becomes unhealthy, and we are soon introduced to an old man named Jack (Terrence Stamp) who perhaps may be able to tie up the two timelines. The distinction between these realities gets mind-bending as time goes on.
We begin to get an idea as to who Jack might be, but Wright is persistent in how patiently he chooses to tell the story. The nuanced, slow-burn writing takes its time to set up the world, and to see Ellie go through it all in such engrossingly intimate detail creates a lot of emotional investment. The visuals are sure to leave you agape in this extremely well-shot and edited film. The director’s vision of 60’s London is a colourful world tapping straight into the soul of a beautiful romantic poem. Ellie sees the world through Sandie's eyes as well as her own, and the seamless transition in these sequences rich with VFX leaves you surrounded with pixie dust. The dual perspective isn’t just a visual gimmick but an important tool with which to understand Ellie's psychological struggles.
Director: Edgar Wright
Cast: Thomasin McKenzie, Anya Taylor-Joy, Matt Smith, Terrence Stamp
Mirrors are a constant theme in this film. It is through them that Ellie sees her mother. It is through them that she sees Sandie in many pivotal moments, denoting the similarities between the two. They help you understand how the experiences help Ellie empathise with Sandie’s life. Interestingly, Ellie sees the horrific events of that life through mirrors, even when the said mirrors aren't physically present.
This beautiful old London isn't all rosy though. It may look gorgeous like Sandie, but like her, it also carries deep darkness within—something that gets foreshadowed when Ellie's landlord, intrigued with Ellie's obsession over the 60s', shrugs and says, "Well, yes, the music was good back then", denoting that she faced her own struggles in her past. Ellie too realises soon that London is worse than warned by her grandmother. A taxi driver she meets early on suggests that “it is the same old London underneath”. Every era may have its share of good and bad, but Wright’s look here is cynical and suggests that the present world has taken a lot of the bad and not much of the good.
The film is an arresting experience, an emotional rollercoaster. There's an audition scene in which Sandie, in Anya's voice, performs Petula Clark's classic Downtown song. The experience is ethereal. In stark contrast is the scene in which Jack hums a song of Sandie; this time, the experience induces horror. In tune with this, the horror in the film is more psychological than not. The latter part of the film, in fact, is so self-indulgent that it might put off some. Edgar visually unravels Ellie's psychological fights, and these portions reminded me of 1977's Suspiria, another horror film about a new-in-town student experiencing otherworldly events. That film too used similar saturated red and blue tones.
Many of us may be in love with a dead version of someone, but often, it is with a past version of ourselves. Last Night in Soho explores this deep theme and makes for a touching experience. It is interesting how even though the film isn't meant to be a gripping whodunit, you simply cannot turn your head away for fear of missing a crucial detail. I walked out of the theatre, a silence so haunting in my head that was occasionally disturbed only by echoes of Anya's rendition of Downtown—the effect of a really affecting film.