Director: Edgar Wright
Notable Cast: Thomasin McKenzie, Anya Taylor-Joy, Matt Smith, Diana Rigg, Michael Ajao, Terence Stamp
At this point, I'm feeling a bit out of the loop. I adored Edgar Wright as a director in decades previous, but his last two films - including Baby Driver and Last Night in Soho, have left me oddly cold. I think it’s because I feel like Wright has started to write his scripts to match visuals versus crafting visuals to fit the depths of the script. It's a small and nuanced change in approach, but one that I feel undercuts many of the interesting elements in his latest film, Last Night in Soho.
With his love letter to giallo and the murder mysteries of the 1960s (some serious Mario Bava vibes here which is always a plus), Last Night in Soho is a gorgeous piece of cinema, and its direction and editing are impressive. The use of dream-like flow and fading with the narrative is artfully done. If anything, Wright is definitely soaring with his visual pops, use of mirror tricks, and creating that sense of "parallel" timelines that evokes a sense of fantasy that slowly seeps into nightmares.
The initial foray for our heroine Eloise, played with a naive innocence usually reserved for coming-of-age stories by Thomasin McKenzie, into the visions following a young woman Sandy in the 1960s London nightclub scene, is a tour de force of impeccable set design, mirror usage, lighting, and fluid camera work. As visuals fluctuate around this idea of ghostly visions overlaid on real life, it proves just how incredible Wright can be as a director and the cinematography by Jeong Jeong-hun matches his ambitions with relative ease. For fans of visual style, it's hard not to wallow in the world of Last Night in Soho for all its strengths and it’s the main reason to love this film.
One aspect that will either be a huge positive or negative for the film, depending on its viewer, is the use of music throughout. Last Night in Soho, like its predecessor, is inherently built around some of its music choices - mostly 1960s pop and rock hits, that are meant to evoke an emotional and sensory build for the characters and audience. The music is on point for that usage particularly for those who enjoy that era, but it can be massively overwhelming in its non-stop 'assault' on the listener. At times it becomes almost too self-aware in a meta manner that pulled me out of the scenario on hand rather than deepening the experience. When characters start using lyrics as dialogue, it deflates its usage.
The biggest obstacle for Last Night in Soho to climb ends up being its script and narrative. Yes, the initial conceit is fascinating and ripe for thematic weight and interpretation, but as the film powers through, it loses its grip on just what those themes should be and tries to deliver twists and turns that are not emotionally earned in its storytelling. It’s as if Last Night in Soho was written with the idea of powering through to the next sequence of visual or atmospheric punches and then using generic threads to tie it all together. Too many of these issues arise in the third act within the film’s reveals or more terrifying moments of horror-inspired ghostly spooks for me to dive into in more detail. Its potential statements on so many intriguing topics such as the use of women as a commodity, the circular nature of trauma, or the biases of perspective end up a jumbled concoction trying to fit the visual schemes and murder mystery structures and failing to support one another.
All in all, it’s understandable why Last Night in Soho has received mixed reactions from critics but raving reviews from its fans, the ones that have seen it thus far as it struggles to make an impact act the box office at the time of this writing. It’s a relatively mixed effort where the ambitions of its execution end up cracking the foundations of its story and character work. There’s still plenty to love here with gorgeously layered visuals, a sweeping atmosphere that uses its fantastical concept well, and some popping performances that use the screen presence of both Anya Taylor-Joy and Matt Smith to intriguing effect. Unfortunately, Last Night in Soho is a gorgeous manor built so impressively intricate and large that it has cracked its foundations and its construction crew has failed to reinforce its load-bearing structures. Too much of a push and it’s easy to see entire portions crumble under the weight.