By: Shawn McKee
Last Night in Soho is one of the most visually impressive films I’ve seen in a while. Its vibrant cinematography, sweeping camera movements, and gorgeous colors effectively recreate London during the Swinging Sixties. Though set in present day, the movie shifts back to a different time and place through multiple dreamlike segments, while presenting the mysterious and tragic downfall of an ambitious singer caught up in the glitz and glamour of a bygone era.
We don’t see movies like this too often, an entirely original concept with a large budget and backing of a major studio (Universal). It’s not related to any franchise or pre-existing property. As a psychological horror film, it’s also not associated with the Blumhouse “horror” assembly line or A24 cerebral art house fare. The story was conceived by British writer/director Edgar Wright. And how much you enjoy his film is based on how willing you are to get immersed in its world.
Like any worthwhile art, Last Night in Soho is inundated with symbolism. There’s a lot going on in every scene. On the surface, the serpentine story unfolds as a full-length Twilight Zone episode. It’s unlike anything Wright has ever done before, and if you know his versatile body of work, you can appreciate how far he’s come.
Wright is known for the comedy horror film Shaun of the Dead and its equally farcical action counterpart Hot Fuzz, featuring the dream team of British comic actors, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. Both films are notable for their striking wit, over-the-top violence, and fast-paced editing, for starters. Wright then went on to make the superbly crafted and hilarious Scott Pilgrim vs. the World based on the comic series of the same name. His unique brand of fast-paced British humor was established early on with the TV sitcom Spaced, also starring Simon Pegg and Nick Frost.
For movie lovers and film buffs alike, Wright remains the gift that keeps on giving. Even with a misfire such a Baby Driver, in my opinion, his artistic talent is clear. His films can also be bombastic and tend to go haywire in the third act. I was expecting as much in Soho. I can’t say that it doesn’t fall into the same trap, but what I witnessed overall was any cinephile’s dream. The abundance of clever camera shots that masterfully blend its real world and dream world segments together must be seen to be believed.
In a time of unending corporate factory filmmaking, Soho stands on its own. The characters are appealing, the suspense is brooding, and the payoff is well earned. It’s an unlikely film from an unlikely director, made with the careful precision as love letter to 1960’s cinema and music. The soundtrack thunders along with songs of the era and even more recent songs reimagined as sixties tracks. But Wright also doesn’t shy away from reality as he demystifies nostalgia to present a nightmarish underbelly that existed during that time. Through it all, the movie is a tour de force of sight and sound with excellent performances of its two female leads.
The plot involves an aspiring fashion designer named Ellie (Thomasin McKenzie), who gets accepted into the London College of Fashion. After some friction with her inconsiderate dorm roommate, Ellie rents a room from an elderly landlady named Ms. Collins (Diana Rigg). The room, however, turns out to be haunted, and Ellie vividly dreams of a mysterious singing beauty from the 1960s named Sandie (Anya Taylor-Joy). The dreams grow more intense as time goes on, and Ellie finds herself engrossed in a murder mystery that she’s unable to separate herself from.
By sheer quality alone, Soho should be destined to become a classic. Its enthralling visuals, carefully selected period music, and topnotch storytelling form an exciting two-hour tale of macabre. It might just be one of Wright’s best films. There were some moments that tested my patience, but the abundance of imagination on display won me over. I walked into the movie knowing nothing about it beyond being an Edgar Wright film. The gamble paid off, and I was pleasantly surprised. Movies like this breathe life back into cinema, making that trip to the theater well worth it in the end.
Rating: 4/5 Stars