Italian Horror Throwback, Last Night in Soho (2021) Dazzles and Delights
Updated: Feb 6, 2022
Title: Last Night in Soho
First Non-Festival Release: September 25, 2021 (Premiere)
Director: Edgar Wright
Writer: Edgar Wright, Krysty Wilson-Cairns
Runtime: 116 Minutes
Starring: Thomasin McKenzie, Anya Taylor-Joy, Matt Smith, Diana Rigg, Michael Ajao
Where to Watch: Check out where to find it here
Eloise (Thomasin McKenzie) is accepted into her dream fashion program and moves to London to pursue her dreams of becoming a designer. An old soul at heart, she finds herself struggling to fit in with her more boisterous and socially manipulative classmates besides fellow outcast John (Michael Ajao). After a dorm party forces her to sleep in a common lounge and nearly miss her first class, Eloise decides to rent a room from an old woman (Diana Rigg) in a quieter part of the city. Much more rustic and comfortable than her previous lodgings, she begins to fall into the rhythm of the city life while she dreams of an up-and-coming singer (Anya Taylor-Joy) who may have lived there previously. Things take a dark turn when the mysterious young woman’s dark past intertwines with Eloise’s reality.
A beautifully filmed and narratively inspired psychological horror, Last Night in Soho dazzles with a stylistic time warp murder mystery.
Last Night in Soho is captivating for many reasons, but its leading characters elevates it to the highest levels. Sandie is such a breath of fresh air in horror. Her desire for stardom darkens, much like Eloise’s drawings do, as her life slips away into something far different than her dreams imagined. Watching this wall come down as her reality sinks in is heartbreaking and cruel, calling upon the film’s larger condemnation on the abuse of women. Her character arc is fresh and exciting for the sheer uniqueness of it all. Her death’s inspiration to Eloise gives both women strength and courage in different ways.
Speaking of which, Thomasin McKenzie breathes life into the reserved and seemingly vulnerable Eloise. Her spirit wavers but never breaks and McKenzie showcases this quiet fortitude within her between vocal quivers and bright glimmers in her eyes. Conversely, Anya Taylor-Joy breezes through the film with utmost confidence and panache. Despite this, her vulnerability shines through. The constant barrage of propositions and the ultimate dissatisfaction with what pursuing entertainment meant, is translated through dilated pupils and slight twitches of the lip.
These themes of abuse, control, and ambition prop up the film’s central conceit of disillusionment from the realities of life in the city slow destroy a person. Parallels between Eloise and Sandie’s experiences amplify this, be it silent ridicule from classmates or playing a sexualized background dancer. They both want to follow their dreams, but the difference in their experiences, however, arise from their drive and the barriers that come against them. Eloise wants to make her family, both living and dead, proud; Sandie wants to prove to others that she can make it. Control exerted over Sandie by her manager/boyfriend and the abuse endured by men taking advantage of her vulnerabilities lead her down an inevitably dark path while Eloise’s deep love for the past allows her to get sucked into a dangerous world.
It’s hard for me to truly critique this film because it’s such a fun and engaging film that still aces it on every technical merit. There are so many inspired set pieces in this film. From cabaret bars to transformational staircases, Last Night in Soho is nothing short on style and flair. It all flows together like a tapestry of Eloise’s best designed dresses. Its score is mixed with classic 60s songs and sweeping scores that add elegance, thrills, and a sense of danger. Taylor-Joy’s elegant rendition of ‘Downtown’ makes it clear that her star power knows no bounds and that she can truly do everything. Seamless editing elevates many sequences to new heights while still blending into each other in the most visually creative and dynamic ways. It’s a triumph of storytelling and filmmaking. I can go on for hours. It’s simply a fantastic film with only one downfall: its own over ambition.
While the first half of the film has this mysterious yet daring energy that keeps the audience guessing, as the story falls further into place, it gets more predictable and verges on the silly. That is par for the course when considering it is a very giallo inspired film, so it doesn’t ring too many alarm bells here. Dominated by mystery and intrigue, the supernatural nature of Eloise’s misadventure in London deviates from the typical modern-day foray into horror. Some choices to feature manifestations from Eloise’s visions so intermittently and garishly causes the film to lose its spark and fall down a more predictable path. In the end, it works for me but I understand it isn’t for everyone.
A love letter to the Italian horror of yesteryear, Last Night in Soho is a genuinely thrilling and hauntingly beautiful meditation on ambition and abuse. McKenzie and Taylor Joy play off each other’s strengths and keep the energy going despite a clear narrative drop in the third act. The strength of Last Night in Soho is born from its incredible design. Between expert cinematography, set design, costuming, editing, and lighting, it sets the bar high for mid-budget horror. It’s a shame that Last Night in Soho will tank at the box office considering the clear attention to detail put into the final product. Hopefully, this one gets the cult status it deserves when it gets discovered and re-discovered on streaming for years to come. As we do learn, timeless aspects of the past have a way of resurfacing in the present.
Overall Score? 8/10