Edgar Wright’s latest film Last Night in Soho signals a real shift from the Cornetto Trilogy days. No longer are our screens blessed with Nick Frost and Simon Pegg fighting off zombies, but instead we are faced with a different kind of horror – this time, minus the comedy. The film, which can be described as a sort of psychological horror thriller, follows young Eloise ‘Ellie’ Turner (Thomasin McKensie) as she tries to adjust to her new life as a fashion student at the University of the Arts London, while also dealing with recurring visions of her dead mother. The result? In her new Goodge Street bedsit, Ellie finds herself being transported back nightly to the glitz and glamour of London in the sixties, where she seemingly both watches and becomes aspiring singer Sandie (Anya Taylor-Joy). The line between Ellie’s imagination and everyday reality becomes increasingly blurred, and she finds herself dangerously trapped between the past and present.
It is no doubt that Last Night in Soho contains all the hallmarks of a classic Wrightian masterpiece. The recreation of 1960s Soho is visually enthralling – our first introduction to Sandie and charming manager Jack (Matt Smith) in the overly decadent Café de Paris visibly demonstrates Wright doing what Wright does best. Creative camerawork and staging allows for Sandie’s elegant and visually striking descent into the club, hauntingly juxtaposed with the appearance of Ellie in the wall of mirrors as she goes by. Sandie and Jack’s dance routine, which establishes the foundations of their twisted partnership, is one of the most engaging scenes in the film, sweeping the audience right back to the swinging sixties. However, it is not only the incredible visuals that assists Wright in capturing the mood of the era – the soundtrack, as always beautifully crafted by Wright, is essential in bringing the sixties to life. Taylor-Joy’s eerie a cappella performance of ‘Downtown’ by Petula Clark sets up the unnerving atmosphere that pervades the rest of the film, showing that once you peal back the glossy exterior of the period, it reveals a shocking ugliness underneath. The rest of the soundtrack features many British artists that rose to fame during the 1960s, including Cilla Black and The Who, helping to further establish the British ‘vibe’ as the film moves in and around the increasingly threatening streets of Soho.
However, despite the stunning soundtrack and incredible fashion by costume designer Odile Dicks-Mireaux (Academy Award nomination pending), Last Night in Soho fails to land its place amongst Wright’s best works. The charm of Soho in the sixties is captivating, yet this is not enough to carry the whole film. The scenes in present-day London attempt to be relatable, but in turn they end up feeling somewhat awkward – the characterisation of McKensie’s spiteful roommate Jocasta (Synnove Karlsen), as well as her romantic interest John (Michael Ajao), appears cliché and underdeveloped. Although their storylines are only subplots in the grand scheme of things, it fails to provide the film with the sort of depth and complexity that can be found in Wright’s previous work. Moreover, Matt Smith’s role as the slimy pimp Jack fails to strike fear into the hearts of the audience. The chemistry between Taylor-Joy and Smith does not have enough time to build before he is quickly characterised as the villain of the story, therefore it becomes hard to fear him in the way that our protagonist Ellie does. Ultimately, whilst the film has much potential, the momentum that is built up in the first half fails to see its way through right to the end, leaving audiences dissatisfied by the ending when exiting the cinema.
Altogether, Last Night in Soho, although having been hotly anticipated due to its star-studded cast and attachment to acclaimed director Edgar Wright, fails to live up to its expectations. The attraction of Soho in the 1960s is brilliantly conveyed by costume and visual design, but it is not enough to make the film truly impactful. What was Wright’s first venture into genuine horror might as well be his last.