“Unusual movie” was what I heard from a fellow audience member at the end of the credits of Last Night in Soho, the latest film from Edgar Wright.
I responded something to the likes of “True, but that does not make it bad.”
Those who have seen other movies by Wright will notice his latest definitely is a shift in tone. Those who are expecting the sense of fun that was present in 2004’s Shaun of the Dead, 2010’s Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, 2015’s Ant-Man (which he did not direct but contributed to the screenplay) or 2017’s Baby Driver will not find much of that here (though the film still has his trademark of a stellar soundtrack).
Set in present day, we start with the beginning of the next stage in life for Eloise (Thomasin McKenzie) as she starts school. She has always dreamt of being a fashion designer, taking inspiration from her Grandmother (Rita Tushingham) and her late mother. Ellie was clearly brought up on the fashion of the 1960s (not to mention the music of that decade, which is always a plus), but it does not take long to see that she looks out of her comfort zone when she arrives at school. Things don’t help that her roommate Jocasta (Synnove Karlsen) is a queen bee of sorts, leaving “Ellie” with no friends other than the very kind hearted John (Michael Ajao). It does not take long for Ellie to move to new lodgings in an upstairs room, run by the elderly Ms. Collins (the late Diana Rigg in her final performance).
It is here where the “unusual” begins, as Ellie finds herself transported back to the mid-1960s (where the local theater is playing Thunderball, the latest 007 Sean Connery film). She is now living as upcoming singer Sandie (Anya Taylor-Joy, star of The Queen’s Gambit). We see her struggles as she tries to get into show business (Taylor-Joy does her own singing), as well as her relationship with her shady boyfriend/manager Jack (Matt Smith, who was once the reason I realized that bowties are cool). Of course, not all is what it seems, even after Ellie wakes up from these dreams.
Last Night in Soho does tend to consist of more than one genre (horror & psychological thriller being the main culprits). It does have a decent amount of jump scares (one involving a telephone that I admit got me good). What worked mainly for me was how the actors were dedicated to a degree to their roles and did not over due it.
This especially is true for Thomasin Mckenzie. We see right off the bat at the beginning that she is not just a fish out of water, but a fragile, delicate one at that (there are times where I wanted to give her a comforting hug). Her performance was all the more impressive to me because the last film I remember seeing her in was Jojo Rabbit (2019) as Elsa, the Jewish girl in hiding. Elsa was indeed a nice person like Ellie, but she had a much harder outer shell to get by first. I became a fan of her after her breakout in 2018’s Leave No Trace (criminally underseen gem), and can say yet again that hers is a name you should remember (she is also set to star in The Power of the Dog later this year).
Parents, this is not a movie for kids. There is more than enough violence, sexuality, and nudity (though the last two don’t actually go together in this case). Even with PG-13 level swearing, this is High School and up material.
The film is not the best of horror films, but it is clearly better than the cheap ones we get every time we get a Friday the 13th on our calendars. There are twists that I admit to thinking I could predict, only to be proven wrong (at least twice by my count), but not all of them work (a character played by the great Terrence Stamp seemed a bit odd). Even so, Last Night in Soho is indeed like no other film in recent memory.
It is almost like the film is looking into the mirror, seeing only itself.