Director Edgar Wright delivers impressive cinematography and 60s nostalgia.
Flashing lights. Blaring music. Dancing, drinking, smoking and sex. If this sounds familiar, you may be experiencing dissociative dreams about living in London during the golden era of 1960s culture. At least, that’s what Edgar Wright thought of when penning “Last Night in Soho.” The director of “Shaun of the Dead,” “Scott Pilgrim vs. The World” and “Baby Driver” spares no expense, using lavish color palettes and highly dynamic lighting to create a rich visual buffet of impressive scenes. With impressively smooth camerawork and a killer soundtrack to boot, the giallo-like thriller film is extremely immersive to say the least.
The plot centers around Eloise (Thomasin McKenzie), a bright but timid girl with hallucinatory tendencies from rural England who moves to London to pursue her dream of fashion design. However, her highly unusual upbringing impedes her attempts to befriend her roommate Jocasta (Synnove Karlsen), and she quickly moves into a spare room in Soho rented by an elderly Ms. Collins (Diana Rigg). Here, she discovers that when she sleeps she is transported back to the mid 1960s as Sandi (Anya Taylor-Joy), a beautiful wannabe singer who previously occupied Eloise’s room. Eloise falls in love with Sandi and her new boyfriend/manager Jack (Matt Smith) as they run around London nightlife. However, things quickly turn sour as Sandi discovers the dark truth about show business, which slowly devolves into prostitution and seemingly culminates in her own murder. Distraught, Eloise’s mental state slowly starts to unravel and the line between her visions and reality increasingly blurs as she frantically attempts to discover the truth behind Sandi’s murderer before she loses her own sanity.
The film is filled with smooth, seamless work as Wright flexes his incredible prowess in the dream sequences. The camera moves fluidly with the action as we see both Sandi and Eloise as two sides of the same card in beautiful sets, which often include multiple mirrors and character swaps. Wright’s use of lighting heavily influences how he designs scenes, using it to foreshadow, distort and transition. Horror elements often build from suspense and are mostly psychological rather than graphic in nature, which generally work.
However, Eloise is later tormented by hallucinations of featureless, hollow-faced men, which are frightening from a distance but look more like clay models from “The Haunted Mansion” as they approach, stunting the effect. The film falters a bit plotwise, as the rules of Eloise’s interactions between the two worlds are never clearly defined. Part of this lends itself to the insinuation that Eloise may be schizophrenic, but it also causes partial disconnect by disorienting the audience. The climactic scene also spirals, dangerously hovering over mixed messaging on the implications of forced prostitution and sexual assault, but lingers only for a moment before quickly backtracking its brief message of victim blaming.
All in all, “Last Night in Soho” is a wild, chaotic and slightly overwhelming ride through 1960s London, balancing both light and dark while presenting an unflinching view of what it means to take control of your own life in a world filled with excitement and danger. I wouldn’t call this film a “need-to-see,” but is definitely a “want-to-see” for anyone even slightly curious about it.