Last Night in Soho, 2021, directed by Edgar Wright — 3/5 Stars
Last Night in Soho sounds awesome on paper. Edgar Wright, one of the best comedic directors of the past twenty years, taking style queues from 1960s and ‘70s Italian horror directors and collaborating with two of the best young actresses currently working sounds like a cinephile’s dream. Unfortunately, though, Wright’s execution leaves much to be desired in both narrative and visuals. Wright’s snappy, signature style seems to be at odds with the story he wants to tell, and while Soho is mostly a fun viewing experience, it’s certainly a letdown for fans of Wright’s work and the horror genre alike.
The film’s plot follows the bright-eyed Eloise, played by Thomasin Mckenzie, as she settles in to living in London while she attends the London College of Fashion. Eloise has a supernatural gift for seeing ghosts, and sometimes sees the image of her deceased mother in mirrors. The story begins to pick up when she ditches her snobbish, mean-spirited roommate, moves into a new apartment and begins to dream of being a young woman in the 1960s, an era that she greatly romanticizes. As the film continues, Eloise realizes that her dreams are a reflection of reality, all while the violent past increasingly intrudes on her daily life.
The first issue that presents itself in Soho is the dialogue. Eloise’s roommate is a blunt caricature of a high-school mean girl, relentlessly mocking Eloise to a point that feels unrealistic, even for a bully. Eloise’s interactions with her love interest are similarly plagued by tropes, and ultimately feel silly and unearned. More simplistic writing like this works well for highly stylized graphic novel adaptions like Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, but feels out of place in a story that wants the viewer to take its stakes and narrative beats more seriously.
This leads to perhaps the film’s most frustrating folly: it simply isn’t scary, or even really suspenseful. While it certainly seems like it’s trying to make the audience frightened, the scares and tension never seem to come. There don’t seem to be consequences or stakes; not a single character dies outside of Eloise’s visions of the past. Most of the violence in the narrative is hardly even shown, only implied, which feels like a slap in the face to the bloody gore-fests that defined the Italian Giallo genre that Wright so heavily borrows from. Even the stylistic flourishes of primary-colored neon lighting from the Giallo movement are largely absent, and feel out of place when they are present, standing out in stark contrast to the rest of the film’s more conventional color palettes. These issues are further accentuated by an over-reliance on the film’s visual effects, which are often distracting and seemingly unnecessary.
Soho isn’t all bad, though. The film’s soundtrack is excellently curated and utilized, and both McKenzie and Anya Taylor-Joy, who plays Eloise’s ‘60s counterpart, Sandie, are outstanding in their roles. The movie’s costuming and production design is also a major highlight, believably crafting a striking, dreamy version of 1960s London. There, though, is where the praise ends.
Last Night in Soho could have been great. Instead, it’s just okay. While its problems ultimately don’t weigh it down enough to make it unwatchable, it’s almost certain that this story could have been told with more visual flair and narrative subtlety.