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New to VOD - LAST NIGHT IN SOHO

last night in soho review
A fashion student shares a supernatural connection with a troubled wannabe singer in 1960s London.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Edgar Wright

Starring: Thomasin McKenzie, Anya Taylor-Joy, Matt Smith, Terence Stamp, Diana Rigg, Margaret Nolan, Michael Ajao, Rita Tushingham

last night in soho poster

A Frankenstein's monster assembled from various body parts cleaved from the corpses of other movies and TV shows (Midnight in Paris, The Haunting of Julia, Nightmare on Elm Street, Sapphire and Steel and The Future Ghost being the main influences), Edgar Wright's Last Night in Soho displays promising early signs of intelligent life before spending most of the movie shambling about knocking over bits of lab equipment.

Much of that early promise comes courtesy of the presence of rising star Thomasin Mckenzie. The Kiwi ingenue is gifted her first lead role as Ellie, a naive young fashion student who leaves Cornwall for London. It's a city she's romanticised in her head, thanks to her obsession with the swinging '60s. When she gets there she finds the UK capital's streets aren't paved with gold, as she's immediately hit on by the sleaziest cabbie since Gordon Willis's psycho-thriller Windows and is mocked by her bitchy classmates.

last night in soho review

Ellie leaves her student dorm and takes a room in the home of Ms Collins (Diana Rigg). When she falls asleep she finds herself transported back to 1966 and into the body of Sandy (Anya Taylor-Joy), a young woman who once lived in the same room. Sandy is an ambitious dollybird who wants to be a star. Taken under the wing of sinister wideboy Jack (Matt Smith), Sandy sets down the path trodden by many previous ill-fated blondes from Marilyn Monroe to Mary Millington. At first, escaping into the life of Sandy is something Ellie embraces, but when the truth of Sandy's sad existence become clear, Ellie finds herself haunted by ghosts of the past.


Through the prism of 1960s London, Last Night in Soho attempts to slot into the recent MeToo movement, and does so in the clunkiest, most confusing fashion. Initially Sandy is portrayed as a feisty figure, which makes it odd when the film reduces her to a one-dimensional victim. Like the recent MeToo misfire Promising Young Woman, Last Night in Soho throws the baby out with the bathwater by seeming to portray sexuality itself as concurrent with abuse. There's a scene in which Sandy finds herself a chorus girl in a Soho burlesque revue, performing a routine based around Sandie Shaw's Puppet on a String. It's a completely innocent piece of burlesque, no saucier than the sort of routine you would have seen at teatime on a 1980s British variety TV show. But Wright shoots it as a nightmarish sequence, which comes off as laughable in this age where burlesque is seen as a means of empowerment by most women. Were the old bat still alive, Mary Whitehouse would condemn Wright's film for its violence but applaud its conservative view of sex.

last night in soho review

Thing is, that sequence is also the best scene in the picture. Wright shoots and edits the hell out of it, with an audience of off-duty Tory MPs clapping their hands along in perfect rhythm to its beat. The director wants you to find the whole scenario appalling, but it's a thing of beauty, the only scene in the movie you might want to revisit. I'm guessing Wright is trying to replicate the cabaret scene from Joseph Losey's Mr. Klein or the Hitler Youth sequence of Bob Fosse's Cabaret, but it completely backfires. Nobody but the most uptight prude would watch this sequence and think "Isn't this horrific?", but rather "What a well designed musical number."


As confused as the film's muddy sexual politics are the details of its supernatural element. Ellie has some form of ESP, which allows her to see her mother, who committed suicide while she was a child, in a mirror in her bedroom. It's established, like so many of Last Night in Soho's plot points, through exceptionally clunky dialogue. It seems Ellie can only see her mom in the room where she died, which initially would seem to explain her visions of Sandy in the bedsit. But at first Ellie only sees Sandy when she falls asleep, unlike her mother, whom she can see while awake. And then Ellie begins to see ghosts outside the bedsit. It all leads to a twist borrowed from a certain cult thriller of the early 1970s that makes no sense in its context here.

last night in soho review

Like his young protagonist, Wright seems enamoured by '60s London, and revels in his film's flashbacks to that era. The movie only ever really springs to life when some classic pop tune drops on the soundtrack and its protagonists hit the dancefloor. Based on this and his previous movie, Baby Driver, Wright could probably make a hell of a musical (rather than any '60s thriller it's the '80s musical Absolute Beginners that Last Night in Soho feels most indebted to). Sadly, such sequences are few and far between here, and whenever we're stuck in modern day London it's shot with the blandness of an episode of Hollyoaks, with writing to match.

Every now and then some '60s icon will pop up (along with Rigg there are appearances from Terence Stamp, Rita Tushingham and Margaret Nolan) or Wright will reference some old movie, but it really just comes off as throwing crumbs to cinephiles. With his many podcast appearances and affable social media presence, Wright is the closest we have to an Alex Cox figure today, someone committed to educating the kids on the joys of cult cinema while establishing their own personal canon. The difference is, while hosting BBC's Moviedrome, Cox was making movies that were actually about stuff. Wright's movies are just about how much he loves movies. That often works for Tarantino, but Wright has yet to prove himself as capable a filmmaker as his American contemporary.

Last Night in Soho
 is on UK/ROI VOD now.



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