Director Edgar Wright is perhaps best known as a comedic filmmaker, with his Cornetto trilogy earning him a passionate following earlier in his career. More recently, Wright has started to expand his horizons, illustrating impressive range as a helmsman. While his 2017 offering Baby Driver had humor laced throughout, it was more notable for its intricately crafted action sequences set to a diverse soundtrack. Wright’s evolution continues with Last Night in Soho, a psychological horror film that blends elements of time travel and mystery into an intriguing package. Last Night in Soho is a stylish and thrilling work from Wright, bolstered by an impressive lead performance from Thomasin McKenzie.
In Last Night in Soho, McKenzie stars as Eloise, an aspiring fashion designer who moves from the English countryside to London to attend fashion school there. Upon arriving, Eloise finds herself overwhelmed by life in the city and moves into a quiet house off-campus that reminds her of the comforts of home. While there, she finds herself mysteriously traveling back to 1960s London each night, becoming infatuated with the life of Sandie (Anya Taylor-Joy), a young woman with dreams of becoming a singer. What seems like a fairytale quickly turns into a nightmare that sees Eloise attempting to uncover some horrible truths.
Anya Taylor-Joy and Thomasin McKenziein Last Night in Soho
One of Wright’s calling cards as a director is his penchant for visual storytelling, and that is on full display in Last Night in Soho. Wright uses scene composition and cues to establish everything from the film’s setting to key character details, efficiently setting up Eloise as a lower-class social outcast eager to fit in. His usual energetic style is also present, helping Last Night in Soho move along at a brisk pace, keeping the viewer engaged. Audiences are transported back to the 1960s along with Eloise thanks to standout production and costume design that’s period accurate and ambitious in scope. Wright also proves he’s more than capable of handling pure horror, staging a number of sequences that are creepy and unnerving as Eloise confronts the harsh reality of her fantasy.
Strong performances are another hallmark of Last Night in Soho. McKenzie really carries the movie, painting Eloise as a quiet, wide-eyed outsider who’s easy to sympathize with. As the film progresses, the performance becomes more demanding of the actress — particularly from an emotional perspective — and McKenzie is more than up for the challenge, truly selling Eloise’s fragile mental state and sense of desperation. Taylor-Joy is essentially a dual lead, leaving an impression with a bold confidence that’s the antithesis of Eloise’s personality. The dichotomy has a bit of a Fight Club feel to it initially, creating a juxtaposition that’s compelling to watch. In terms of the supporting cast, Michael Ajao does a good job as the endearing John, one of Eloise’s fellow students, and Terence Stamp’s presence as the Silver Haired Gentleman keeps audiences on their toes. The late Diana Rigg is also memorable as Ms. Collins, Eloise’s elderly landlady.
Wright’s script, co-written with Krysty Wilson-Cairns, operates as a commentary on nostalgia. The story highlights the appeal and danger of looking back on the past, serving as a warning that dreams aren’t always what they seem. That thematic through-line is a familiar one, but filtered through Wright’s lens works as an engaging hook for this narrative. Wright also has fun playing in the mystery sandbox, doing his best to keep viewers guessing with regards to the film’s twists and turns. Last Night in Soho does deal with some serious subject matter, including mental illness and abuse. How much someone enjoys the film may depend on their feelings about how these are portrayed, but Wright and Wilson-Cairns largely handle them with the care and sensitivity they require so they don’t detract from the final product.
While Last Night in Soho is arguably unlike anything Wright’s made before (it’s by far his least comedic movie), it feels very much like a Wright film with its panache, catchy soundtrack, and ensemble cast with no weak spots. With this, Wright demonstrates he has the skill to be a master in any genre, and it will be exciting to see what he decides to do next. Rather than getting pigeon-holed as a strictly comedy director, Wright’s gone down a much more fascinating path. As long as one feels safe going to the theater, Last Night in Soho is worth seeing on the big screen for fans of Wright’s previous work and cinephiles in general. It may not be the season’s biggest release in terms of profile, but Last Night in Soho is one of the fall’s best films.
Last Night in Soho is playing in U.S. theaters as of October 29, 2021. The film is 116 minutes long and is rated R for bloody violence, sexual content, language, brief drug material and brief graphic nudity.