Illustration by Ben Beechener
CW: Discussions of Sexual Violence
It can often feel like cinema these days is completely dominated by sequels, reboots, and adaptations. Personally, I’ve been to the cinema four times since they’ve re-opened post-lockdown, and have seen two instalments in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (Black Widow and Shang-Chi), the newest Bond sequel No Time To Die, and the latest adaptation of Dune. Don’t get me wrong, these were all great films that I thoroughly enjoyed, but it’s not difficult to think that originality is somewhat disappearing from the big screen. But then along comes the trailer for Last Night In Soho, promising an entirely new story that mixes horror and time travel, a combination so conceptually brilliant that I’m amazed it isn’t more common. Throw in the fact that it’s helmed by my favourite director of all time, Edgar Wright, and features two incredible young leads in Thomasin McKenzie (Jojo Rabbit) and Anya Taylor-Joy (The Queen’s Gambit), and you have my most anticipated movie of the year. So, does Last Night In Soho Live up to the hype?
Yeah, I thought this film was amazing.
First things first, I simply need to talk about how wonderful every aspect of this film’s presentation is. As with most Edgar Wright films, Last Night In Soho is absolutely beautiful. Shots are often flooded with warm neon glows that straddle the line perfectly between inviting and eerie, and there is a frankly masterful use of mirrors throughout the film to illustrate the connection between the two main characters, McKenzie’s Eloise and Taylor-Joy’s Sandie. Two particular scenes really stood out to me: the first time Eloise steps out into 60s Soho and is drowned in the golden light of the Thunderball poster, and a spell-binding dance scene that switches back and forth seamlessly between Eloise and Sandie. I’m not sure if cinematographers can get Nobel Prizes, but I hope director of photography Chung-hoon Chung does get one, because this is one of the prettiest films I’ve ever seen.
It’s not just a feast for the eyes though, because the soundtrack also lives up to Wright’s reputation (I’m listening to it as I type this, and am very close to pre-ordering the vinyl version of it). The track list sounds like something compiled by Quentin Tarantino, which is a massive compliment but isn’t unexpected given the close friendship Tarantino and Wright have (fun fact, Tarantino actually named the film for Wright after introducing him to the 1968 song of the same name). All in all, I would say this film is worth watching for the visuals and sound alone.
Luckily, there is so much more on offer here as well – especially in the cast. McKenzie absolutely nails the fish-out-of-water Eloise, going from uber-confident in her home town (amazingly one that’s about twenty minutes away from my own, which made me unreasonably happy), to sadly vulnerable in the shining lights and sex-driven student accommodation of North London. She also plays fear with such visceral believability, which is obviously very important to get right in a horror. Taylor-Joy is fantastic as always, and her performance has the audience fall in love with Sandie immediately. This makes it all the more heart-breaking as things get more sinister and, despite her best efforts to fight back, Sandie’s tough exterior is torn down by those around her, leaving her truly broken. Matt Smith also delivers a great performance as antagonist Jack. Initially, he plays the character with a charm and swagger that is effortlessly cool, but this façade quickly gives way to the monster underneath in a scarily realistic fashion. Each main character evolves into something sadder and dirtier over time, and each main lead captures this perfectly.
Now though, we need to talk about the story and themes of the film, and this is the only place where I have a slight problem (and where I will again give a MASSIVE spoiler warning). Last Night In Soho is, for the most part, a story within a story. What seems like the bulk of the narrative takes place in the flashbacks to the 60s, and slowly bleeds in to the present day. This can make things slightly messy in some places, but in a way that I think highlights the confusion the characters feel. It works well for me, but I can see why it may not be everyone’s cup of tea. Thematically, I think this movie is about two things: nostalgia and abuse. On the surface level, the film is very bluntly saying that the past isn’t always what we think it is – a message surprisingly close to that of Wright’s massively underrated masterpiece The World’s End. Deeper down though, the film’s story is centred around sexual and psychological abuse, and how it traps victims in a dark and violent world. The character of Sandie is turned into a villain in the final third of the movie purely because of the abuse that she endured, something that simply did not sit right with me when this twist is first revealed. It’s revealed that Sandie has been murdering her abusers in self-defence, but when this is discovered she attempts to murder the innocent Eloise to hide her secret. However, before the end of the film, Sandie is forgiven and shown compassion by Eloise, which really saved the movie for me – this to me highlighted how utterly and completely Sandie was destroyed by abuse, how she’d been made a prisoner of violence her whole life, but how she was never to blame for this.
So, the ending could potentially raise some mixed reactions, but it ultimately worked out for me. Where then did I find issue in the story? Well, I found that the theme of abuse was not even slightly subtle, something particularly uncharacteristic for Wright, being made glaringly obvious very early on – Eloise’s first interaction with someone in London becomes immediately unsettling. I think even five minutes’ worth of positive interactions before this would have made a world of difference, but as is, I feel like the overall message comes across as slightly clumsy in the opening act. Then again, I understand that the message is an incredibly important one, and as a result subtlety may not have been the aim here – yet I can’t help but find it jarring for a director who normally crafts stories so carefully. Perhaps with future viewings my opinion will change, and honestly, I really hope it does. There is also one character in the film who is oppressively unlikeable throughout, in a way that I don’t think added anything to the story. Then again, two minor complaints in a film that I found otherwise stunning is hardly a nail in the coffin.
Upon leaving the cinema, I immediately asked myself where I would rank Last Night In Soho against the rest of Wright’s filmography. I really can’t tell you to be honest. This is something so different to everything else he’s done that comparisons are very difficult, and yet there are just enough Wright-isms thrown in to keep super fans such as myself hooked. I genuinely think I’m going to have to watch this movie somewhere between 5 and 10 times before my opinion on it is completely set. But for now, I can tell you that Last Night In Soho is an absolute treat on the eyes and ears, features consistently great performances throughout and offers a compelling (if very slightly flawed) story that is unlike anything cinema has seen. Edgar Wright has produced another sure hit, and while it may not be his best work, even the worst Wright film is a damn sight better than most other films out there.