“Last Night in Soho” – Eloise (Thomasin McKenzie) moves to London to attend fashion school, and this wide-eyed, sweet young woman basks in the hopes of making dresses, friends, and her mark in England’s grandest city.
Although director Edgar Wright’s new film sounds like a kindhearted coming-of-age tale, it’s not. “Last Night in Soho” is a horror film, specifically, a ghost story, an ambitious and stylish account. Wright’s filmmaking superpowers of sights and sounds are on display, including swooping camera movements, striking eye candy in every corner on the screen (and everywhere else in between), and pleasing and perfect choices of music. Eat your heart out, Quentin Tarantino.
Think “London-Suspiria” with a spot-on soundtrack!
What’s not to like?
When we first meet Eloise, she has no problems. She’s likable and carefree, and this talented high school senior loves fashion. She also adores the 1960s and the styles, music, and simpler times of the era. Our protagonist currently lives with her Gran (who no doubt is a “That Girl” (1966 – 1971) influence on this high school senior) in Redruth, England, which sits darn near the most southwestern tip of England (the country’s “chin”).
It’s a small, wholesome spot in the world, but Eloise has a big wish, and she makes it come true!
The London College of Fashion accepts her in their prestigious program, so our young hopeful hops on a train and arrives in The Swinging City.
Little does she know that her dreams of yesterdecade also come true because when Eloise sleeps, she time travels to the 1960s, 56 years to be exact. It’s 1965 because “Thunderball” is playing in theatres, as Wright and co-writer Krysty Wilson-Cairns (“1917” (2019)) romp, dance, and embrace this transformative age with an eye-and-ear-appealing nostalgia trip.
Who knows, in their spare time, Wright and Wilson-Cairns may have discovered a time-travel portal on their own because they completely transport Eloise and us. 1965 London was a time and place of big band music, public soirees, and dress up when the guys regularly donned black suits and ties, and the women styled their hair like Marlo Thomas and wore light and airy cocktail dresses.
For Sandy (Anya Taylor-Joy), she resembles a walking, talking, singing, dancing pink birthday cake, and our young impressionable student/dreamer idolizes her new past-midnight friend. Even though Sandy may be unassuming on the inside, one alluring glance will turn the average guy’s knees into jelly and his heart skip into a lightning round of hopscotch. (For the record, Taylor-Joy and McKenzie are perfectly cast.)
Actually, in this stirring world that lights up when Eloise slumbers, she is Sandy in 1965. They’re one and the same, but while Eloise soaks in every inch and note (including Petula Clark’s “Downtown” and at least a baker’s dozen other classics), Sandy is unaware of her 2021 counterpart. She’s just trying to make it as a singer, but her London Town adventure starts to morph into The Big Smoke.
Sandy’s life twists, and in turn, Eloise suffers through her colleague’s emotional toils, but she also sees ghosts!
Soon, Eloise suffers from meltdowns, freakouts, and panic attacks, and not just while she’s asleep. The traumatic moments also occur during waking hours, and her schoolmates, teachers, pub co-workers, and a love interest (Michael Ajao) repeatedly stare at Eloise’s breakdowns in disbelief.
For some reason, most everyone around Eloise must have rock-solid resiliencies or selective amnesia because no matter the extreme reactions – or near-epileptic fits – that she has, (just about) all is forgiven the next day. Except for Jocasta (Synnove Karlsen), who willfully chooses to be Eloise’s sworn enemy from Day One.
On the other hand, John (Ajao) must have the patience of Job, as he’s the most enduring, forgiving fella on the planet in any timeframe, especially after a beyond surreal experience in her apartment. (Translation: John’s loyalty to Eloise isn’t believable in the slightest.)
The second half of the picture isn’t surreal but tiresome. You might feel every minute of the lengthy 116-minute runtime, as apparitions who go bump in the night (and day) seem only to offer occasional jolts as jump scares.
Yes, Wright effectively paints Eloise’s claustrophobia as her two worlds/canvases converge in broad strokes, but the magic from the picture’s first half devolves into routine screams and chases. Well, not entirely, because Wright crafts an extraordinary sequence with a butcher knife that film classes will study for years. So will just about everything else during the movie’s first 45 minutes, like the red, white, and blue colors flashing from the French Bistro restaurant flash on Eloise’s face in her apartment.
“Last Night in Soho” is a tale about a vulnerable, trusting woman stepping her foot forward to reach desired aspirations, but forces – both real and otherworldly – attempt to kill her hopes. Eloise isn’t the final girl in this movie. She’s the ONLY girl. She’s alone and has to stand on her own, and look back to another era may not be the correct answer. Despite all kinds of progress, women are still fighting to be heard in 2021, so think about 50-some years ago.
It’s like Billy Joel once said, “’Cause the good ole days weren’t always good.”
The movie’s first hour is not just good, it’s outstanding. Dare I say, it’s dreamy. Well, I certainly admire Wright’s vision.
⭐️⭐️ out of ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Directed by: Edgar Wright
Written by: Edgar Wright and Krysty Wilson-Cairns
Starring: Thomasin McKenzie, Anya Taylor-Joy, Diana Rigg, and Matt Smith
Runtime: 116 minutes
Image credits: Focus Features and Universal Pictures