It’s been 17 years since director Edgar Wright conquered the world with his seminal debut Shaun of the Dead, and in the years since he has established himself as a pop cultural icon. His name has become synonymous with a brand of cinema that is stylish, kinetic and satirical, and his films have become event viewing, not unlike the work of Quentin Tarantino and Guy Ritchie.
Last Night in Soho is his latest outing, and after the pulse-pounding exploits of Baby Driver, he returns with a renewed vigour and another assault on our senses.
The story follows Elouise (Thomasin McKenzie), a shy fashion-design student who has arrived in London for the first time and finds herself outcast and alone. Taking on a lease in an old Soho apartment, she suddenly finds herself able to step into the 1960s, where she connects with an aspiring actress named Sandie (Anya Taylor-Joy).
With the glitz and glamour of the swinging ‘60s providing an escape from her own unhappiness, Elouise steps into the world of show business, dance clubs and gin bars, and soon discovers that the era she has always romanticised is, in fact, full of sinister characters and unthinkable behaviour. Suffice to say it is not a woman’s world and before long the fun and frivolity of her time-hopping becomes a nightmarish spiral into insanity.
To say more would be to spoil the film – the less you know about its narrative arc the better. What we can say is that watching Last Night in Soho conjured a sense of nostalgia, and watching its horrors unfold was like seeing those amazing Italian giallo movies of the ‘70s strike the screen in an abundance of colour and sound. Another great comparison is to describe it as a blending of Nicolas Winding Refn’s The Neon Demon and Kenneth Branagh’s Dead Again.
New Zealand native McKenzie delivers a wonderful lead performance and her transformation on screen is something to behold. She is a rising star, to be sure, and having previously appeared in Leave No Trace and Jojo Rabbit, she is a talent to keep tabs on.
Taylor-Joy – who is also rising up the Hollywood ranks at a breakneck pace – also gives a knockout turn as the starry eyed girl whose tragedy serves as a scathing satire on sexism and misogyny. Her story is uncomfortable and difficult to watch, as sleazy men with vulgar appetites prey on her every move.
Also on the cast line-up is Matt Smith, Terence Stamp, Rita Tushingham and the late Diana Rigg. They too give excellent turns, with Rigg’s final performance being a memorable one indeed.
Wright co-wrote the film with Krysty Wilson-Cairns, whose rise is also underway. She earned an Oscar nomination for co-authoring the screenplay for Sam Mendes’ 1917 and was listed as one of Forbes Magazine‘s 30 Under 30 in 2017. Her stamp on Last Night In Soho is bold and confronting and it’s near impossible to imagine a film of this nature being solely written by a man.
There is a strong film noir sensibility at play also, and while certain aspects are heavy handed (particularly the red herrings), Wright relishes his opportunity to blend contemporary London with the one of old.
Perhaps the most impressive aspect of the film is the overall cinematic technique. Almost every scene includes a sleight of hand and a trick of the eye, as Elouise and Sandie’s worlds collide. They are often on camera at the same time, at times in reflection, while at other times interacting with the same people. It is a sight to behold and total credit is owed to Wright for those moments where it’s impossible to identify digital effects and clever editing with actual in-camera deceptions.
Last Night in Soho is a whole lot of movie, and its secrets are best kept from unsuspecting viewers. Simply knowing that it is Edgar Wright’s latest film is enough, and the visceral splendour of the final act is confronting, awe-inspiring and very satisfying.
In cinemas: November 18
Starring: Thomasin McKenzie, Anya Taylor-Joy, Matt Smith
Directed by: Edgar Wright