Last Night in Soho is the latest film from Edgar Wright, the filmmaker behind films like Hot Fuzz and Baby Driver. Unfortunately, it doesn’t quite hit the same high bar of quality as those films.
That’s not to say it’s bad; it isn’t at all. It just feels like a director’s first shot at a horror film, which it is. The director’s trademark style of frenetic cuts, flashy scene transitions and licensed music galore are at odds with the film’s slow pace, attempts at creating tension and overall dark tone.
The film follows Eloise (Thomasin McKenzie), a fashion student and aspiring designer, as she adapts to the London lifestyle. When she moves out of on-campus housing and into an apartment, she finds herself transported from modern day to the 1960s. She quickly becomes a passenger to an aspiring performer named Sandy (Anya Taylor-Joy), and she escapes with her manager, Jack (Matt Smith). Eventually, the events of the past start to bleed into the present, blurring the lines between Eloise’s reality and her dreams.
Last Night in Soho leaves me mixed. On one hand, the over-the-top horror aspects and the scenes taking place in the ‘60s are the film’s strongest points. On the other, they don’t make up enough of its runtime, and the modern day segments often hurt the film’s pace. The writing, one of Wright’s strong suits, is mostly good, but it’s not tonally consistent and doesn’t commit to either Wright’s style or a new identity, falling somewhere in the middle.
This is the first of Wright’s films that asks its audience to take it seriously the entire way through, but his usual witty writing shows its head in strange places, often enough to be noticeable and distractingly out of place. It also suffers from the same issue Dune suffers from: it’s too slow and weird to be accessible to a general audience while also being marketed as a typical Hollywood film.
Last Night in Soho is in a strange area between wanting to be an easily accessible film, while also actively being an homage to a specific, niche style of European horror from the 1970s. It’s attempting to recreate Italian Giallo horror films, like the works of director Dario Argento, specifically, Suspiria. His films are laced with neon and are deeply colorful and unrealistically bloody. Last Night in Soho lives up to its inspirations, but that’s at a detriment to its intended audience.
As a horror film, I don’t think Last Night in Soho entirely works. It’s not scary, though it often tries to be, and it lacks suspense in most scenes despite its strong characters and performances from their respective actors.
It’s disappointing but not surprising, as Wright has little experience with the genre. Shaun of the Dead is the closest he’s ever gotten to making a horror film before this, and that’s a nearly-straight comedy. The film is closer to a psychological thriller — if I had to stuff it into a genre box — but it’s obvious that’s not what Wright was going for.
The cast, as a whole, does a solid job regardless of the film’s lack of terror; they do all they can to sell the material as scary. McKenzie does a great job to help ground the film with her reactions to the surreal things constantly happening around her. She’s perfect in the quiet moments as well as in the not-so-quiet moments when she’s screaming at the top of her lungs.
Her co-star, Taylor-Joy, is similarly fantastic. She completely sells the scenes set in the ‘60s, playing them as the unreal party the decade is often seen as being. She also convincingly sells the seductive nature of her character, up until the seduction gets her into her main conflict of the film.
Smith is similarly great as the charming yet sketchy manager, Jack. He’s suave, confident and, predictably, an overtly terrible human being. It’s great to see Smith in more big roles for the big screen, instead of being relegated to the small screen, especially following his fantastic turn on Doctor Who.
The cinematography, done by Chung-Hoon Chung, known for films like Oldboy (2003) and It (2017), is beautiful and truly makes the film stand out from the pack of other horror films being released this October. He uses the colorful nature of Giallo films to his advantage, filling the frame with neon reds, blues and whites as well as many other colors — neon and otherwise.
It’s visually striking in a way that the written word just can’t do justice. The visual effects are also fantastic, never distracting from other things in the frame. It really helps that they’re supposed to look surreal, though, so any shortcomings are much less noticeable.
Despite the strength of the cast as well as how great the film is visually and technically, I can’t help but be disappointed by it. As one of my most anticipated films of the year and as a massive fan of Wright’s previous work, this film just didn’t live up to its potential. The story is good and worth telling, but the execution of it, not so much.
Again, it feels like a first attempt at the director doing something new, which it is. I just wish it would’ve been handled better.