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Last Night in Soho (18)
Director: Edgar Wright
Screenplay: Edgar Wright, Krysty WIlson-Cairns
Starring: Thomasin McKenzie, Anya Taylor-Joy, Matt Smith
Review: RJ Bland
To horror fans, Edgar Wright is synonymous with the Cornetto trilogy. Whilst The World's End (2013) was nothing to write home about, Hot Fuzz (2007) and Shaun of the Dead (2004) are probably two of the best horror comedies (emphasis on comedy of course) that we've had in the last twenty years or so. Their unique blend of British humour and horror nods proved to be hugely successful amongst not only genre fans but general audiences too. Wright is not a prolific film-maker however and since World's End he has only helmed one feature – Baby Driver (2017). Although it was an almost universally popular film, it signalled a potential shift away from genre for the British Writer/Director. However, more slick action movies were not on the agenda and his next project indicated that not only was he returning to horror, he was ditching the comedy part too. The trailers for his newest feature, Last Night in Soho looked anything but a laugh riot...
Eloise (Thomasin McKenzie) or Ellie as she likes to be called - is a young woman with a love of the swinging sixties, who is looking to follow in the footsteps of her deceased mother and become a fashion designer. To realise her dream, she moves away from her comfortable rural Cornwall abode (shared with her nan) to London, where she is enrolled on a course at the London College of Fashion. Her nan warns her to be careful and tells her that London can be an overwhelming place. Ellie insists she will be just fine but almost immediately feels unwelcome and anxious, partly due to the fact her room mate is a bit of a bitch who belittles her at every turn. To get away from the aggro, she decides to move to a bedsit nearby owned by an elderly woman names Mrs Collins (Diana Rigg). During her first night in her new room, she has a vivid dream set in the 1960s, where a beautiful aspiring performer called Sandy (Anya Taylor-Joy) is trying to get a gig at the Cafe de Paris. Sandy meets a charming guy called Jack (Matt Smith) and the two of them hit it off and begin a whirlwind romance. Ellie begins to enjoy the escapism of her dreams, even using them as inspiration for her studies. But this glamorous dreamscape is not all it appears to be and it soon turns rather sinister...
There is a lot to like about Last Night in Soho. It's a highly polished and rather engrossing genre blend that will appeal to as many non-horror fans as it will horror nuts. It's as energetic and unrelenting as you'd expect from an Edgar Wright picture – it's just a shame that it runs out of steam a little towards the end and that some of the twists feels a bit too transparent.
The first half of Soho is better than the second. It's a rip-roaring romantic drama (albeit with a sense of peril) that dazzles the senses and impressively immerses us in not just London in the glorious 60s, but in the hopes and dreams – and fragility – of our protagonist. It's obvious from his previous features (Baby Driver in particular) how important soundtrack is to Wright and we are treated to an array of hits from the best era of music in the 20th century. At times it feels like we're watching a Cilla biopic or something. There is no denying that this period of the film is a thrilling back and forth between a candy coloured capital (albeit with a grimy underside) and the modern day. It's gorgeous to look at and nicely builds a foundation for a superior psychological thriller. Anyone expecting the trademark quick cuts and one-liners will find none here either. It plays is satisfyingly straight.
The second half is where Soho fluffs its lines a little and frustratingly, this is in part down to the horror elements which become abundant by its final act. It's a film that works best when it works as a murder mystery but as said mystery begins to unravel, it runs the risk of becoming a pastiche. Wright is clearly aiming at something in between a 70s giallo and a Polanski psycho drama but everything is a bit too polished and refined to really nail it. He is of course, pointing out that underneath glitz and glam and success, there often lurks something far murkier. You just wish that the tone and style of his picture reflected the realisation of this point.
Although never boring, Soho does feel rather drawn out in parts too. There is a period of the film that feels like a record stuck on loop. Ellie sees something horrible and runs through London, accompanied by some disorientating visuals and another 60s banger blasting away. It's probable that this is all being done to hammer home the mental plight of our lead but it does get a little tiresome.
What probably elevates this rather mixed bag is a rather wonderful cast who are all on top form. McKenzie is a star in the making and Taylor-Joy confirms her status as one of the best actors currently out there. Older heads like Terence Stamp and the late and great Diana Rigg add another sheen of class, if the film needed it. Some critics will say that Soho is a classic case of substance over style. They aren't wrong. However when a film is this stylish, it can afford a few flaws.
Edgar Wright's return to the genre is an ambitious and moody psychological thriller. Although it never fully delivers on all of its potential, it's still a bumpy trip worth taking.
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