In his much-anticipated return to the cinema, Edgar Wright offers up his most far-out film yet, while showing more restraint than previously thought possible. Wright is known for his fast-paced, over the top style, including but not limited to, whip pans, crash zooms, a great sense of humor, unconventional transitions and a habit of setting many of his movies to the beat of his soundtracks. With the exception of music, many of the devices usually found in Wright’s films are lost in “Last Night in Soho,” but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
The script — written by Wright and Krysty Wilson-Cairns — centers on Eloise (Thomasin McKenzie), a 60s-obsessed fashion student who moves to London from the countryside to follow her dream of becoming a fashion designer. Soon after getting settled, Eloise begins journeying back in time to 1960s London in her sleep, taking the form of a young woman named Sandie (Anya Taylor-Joy) as she lives out her wildest champagne and pearl-filled fantasies each night. When thing’s take a dark turn however, Eloise must unravel the mystery surrounding her silk-clad counterpart before she’s unable to distinguish the past from the present.
“Last Night in Soho” is a biting critique on our culture’s obsession with nostalgia. Each time Eloise ventures back to the period in which she so candidly wishes to exist, she becomes more horrified by what she sees. Her idealistic vision of a “simpler time” is quickly shattered, as she’s left trying to escape the ghosts of a past that’s lost the romanticism she ignorantly bestowed upon it. Through her nightly journeys, Eloise learns that things “back in the day” weren’t always as great as they seemed, and wishing to be someone else is a fool's errand.
McKenzie and Taylor-Joy are both excellent in their roles, complementing one another while also serving as each other’s inverse. McKenzie has now made a name for herself since her starring role in Taika Watiti’s Oscar-winning “Jojo Rabbit” in 2019, proving her ability to shoulder the loads thrust upon her by two of Hollywood’s most prominent filmmakers. Taylor-Joy, on the other hand, has already more-than-proven herself in the industry, and her enchanting performance in “Soho” is another victory lap for the budding mega-star post “The Queen’s Gambit.”
While his two leads flex their acting — and dancing — chops, Wright is reeling in many of his artistic impulses. His new film sees him trading humor for horror, and choosing to comment on the pitfalls of dewey-eyed nostalgia instead of firing off one pop culture reference after another. It’s somewhat of a heel turn from the mind behind “Hot Fuzz” and “Scott Pilgrim vs the World,” but his new angle suits “Last Night in Soho” almost as well as a certain pink dress does its second lead.
The director has not only restrained himself, but refined his skills as well. His latest work is full of clean, precise shots that incorporate color and contrast to wonderful effect. Meanwhile, his musical sensibilities still float on the surface, and Wright has again collected another killer set of tracks to provide the score and tempo that make scenes truly come alive.
Wright is as undeniably charismatic as ever behind the camera, and his passion seeps into each and every scene. The director’s use of mirrors makes for many slick shots and transitions within scenes, while also serving as a symbol of duality. The way he uses his two leads — constantly swapping them out for each other mid scene — is wonderfully dizzying and serves to further blur the line between the two characters. An early dance number in which McKenzie and Taylor-Joy constantly trade places while staying on-beat is expert filmmaking at its finest. According to Wright, it was done in camera with no special effects, just movie magic kids.
Attempting to fit “Last Night in Soho” into the box of genre is impossible, the film scoffs at conformity with each passing minute. It has elements of mystery, yet it’s also somewhat of a quasi-period piece while still being Wright's first return to the horror genre since 2004’s “Shaun of the Dead.” While the horror elements in his first feature were played for laughs, they’re downright Polanski-esque in his latest creation. Wright shows great talent for suspense and creep-factor, proving that he doesn’t just exist in the sensationally-comedic box he’s created for himself.
It may take time for “Last Night in Soho” to find its audience, it’s a high-concept film that some viewers may not know what to make of at first. It’s also a film that demands a rewatch — mainly due to its ending — and will grow on viewers from the ride home, to the next day, to the point where they’ll be looking up showtimes for round two. Much like its main character’s transportive dreams, “Last Night in Soho” will reach through the silver screen and drag audiences through an astonishing neon nightmare, only to leave them wanting more as soon as it loosens its grasp.