Film Review: Last Night In Soho is a demented, musical-inspired trip that delights in nightmarish nostalgia

A gorgeously rendered, lovingly crafted, maybe slightly messy, giallo tribute drenched in 1960’s London culture, Last Night In Soho is the type of film one wishes to dissect and divulge in intimate detail.  But that would entirely undo any service to writer/director Edgar Wright, who has implored audiences the globe over to keep their mouths shut when it comes to unpacking the demented delicacies of this musical-inspired (and sounding) Soho trip.

Dreams and nightmares converge throughout as innocence is slowly tainted by the wickedness of London, both in its past and present form, as aspiring fashionista Eloise (Thomasin McKenzie, an absolute delight) travels from her small Cornwall village to London as she is accepted into a prestigious Arts school.  She has a sense of the classic about her – the way she dresses and the music she listens to is very much steeped in the mentality of nostalgia – which she assumes will make her a prime fit in a school of hopeful eccentrics.

Expectation versus reality proves a harsh lesson though. Within minutes of arriving her cab driver and his predatory manner suggest chivalry hasn’t just died but has been slaughtered along the way, and her roommate – a right slag by the name of Jocasta (Synnøve Karlsen) – is the type of mean girl archetype who’ll shit-talk you behind your back and constantly one-up you in any given situation, even when it doesn’t remotely call for it.

Eloise, or Ellie as she prefers, tries to convince herself, and her poor gran back home, that all is well, and she has to take it as something of a sign when she notices a wayward advert on the floors of the near-by bulletin board asking for a female tenant to rent a room on the top floor of a spacious Soho building.  Thanks to her childlike charm, Ellie secures the room from the stern yet kindly Ms. Collins (the late Diana Rigg, who the film is dedicated to), feeling ever-so elated that her idyllic London dream may start to reform in Soho.

It’s in her dreamscape on the top floor of her Soho abode that Wright’s film shifts, introducing the alluring Sandy (Anya Taylor-Joy, a knockout), a chanteuse-in-the-making who invades Ellie’s dreams.  Transported to the swinging 60’s, Ellie vividly spectates Sandy’s attempts to be “the next Cilla Black”, hypnotising men left and right as she swans through the room in a flowing pink number that will eventually inspire Ellie’s own fashion designs; this introductory scene of Sandy is, by far, not just one of Soho‘s brightest spots but one of the year’s, with Taylor-Joy dominating the camera with every opportunity she secures.

Every time Ellie goes to sleep she eagerly awaits where Sandy will lead her, and the early sequences of the film continually indulge Wright’s evident love of the 1960’s.  It’s also why, with its initial bright and boppy personality, that the road ultimately travelled is so unexpected as perversion and broken dreams mix together in a confusing half-waking state that sends the film into a dark environment of blurred reality and fantasy.

Where Soho chooses to travel is then best left up to the viewer to experience, and given that the camera work glides on screen with a graceful fluidity, audiences should at least appreciate the visual aesthetic Wright achieves.  The fact that this film is so far removed from the director’s other efforts – Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, or Baby Driver this is not – is what could work against it for audiences more inclined with a straight narrative.  Conversely, it’s also why it’s such a delicious piece of cinema, because a neo-giallo extravaganza, headlined by two exciting and unique actresses – McKenzie brings a genuine naivety to her inquisitive Eloise, whilst Taylor-Joy bathes in a ferocious sexuality – saturated by the sounds of the 60’s is exactly the type of material you should be going to the cinemas for – regardless of whether or not you think Wright’s genre attempts are successful; that’s a conversation best left for after the film, but, in respect of Mr. Wright, talk quietly as Soho’s secrets need to stay as just that.  A secret.

FOUR STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

Last Night In Soho is screening in Australian theatres from November 18th, 2021

Last Night In Soho was originally reviewed as part of this year’s Brisbane International Film Festival, which ran between October 21st and 31st, 2021.

Peter Gray

Film critic with a penchant for Dwayne Johnson, Jason Momoa, Michelle Pfeiffer and horror movies, harbouring the desire to be a face of entertainment news.

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