Last Night in Soho joins director Edgar Wright’s cohort of films that are pure popcorn goodness.
Wright initially came to prominence via the Simon Pegg / Nick Frost comedic saga of the Cornetto films (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, and The World’s End). He’s displayed a mastery of using visuals to build a world (Scott Pilgrim vs the World) and blockbuster-worthy pacing (Baby Driver). So I knew going in that Last Night in Soho was going to be worth the ticket price and big screen.
But we’re a horror blog, so let’s cut to the chase: is Last Night in Soho a horror movie, and if so, is it scary?
To both, this reviewer says, “More or less.”
But don’t let that response make you think we didn’t love this movie—it’s just that the horror elements are secondary to the better aspects.
Our story centers on Eloise, a country girl hoping to make it big at a London fashion school. Eloise is your classic sheltered girl caught off guard by the big city. Her fascination with exclusively 60s looks has its charm, but places her as an obvious outsider from her posh peers. Thomasin McKenzie plays our humble but determined Eloise well. Her awkwardness and cringe-worthy interactions are played for endearing, humorous sympathy.
Oh, one small quirk about Eloise: she’s psychic.
While Eloise’s interactions with the unknown were tame back home, things get very strange very fast when our naïve student moves into a haunted flat in Soho. She starts having visions of a woman named Sandie in the 1960s, and those visions…get bloody. Soon, Eloise is backtracking a murder through psychic immersions into a past world. She treads a fine line between being enamored with the showy glamour of the past and being terrified by its ghastly truths.
The journey to 1960s London is where you can practically hear Wright saying “Now let me really show you something…” with his sets, costumes, and color.
In the past, we focus on the sordid path of Sandie, a street-smart showgirl trying to make it. She is played beguilingly by Anya Taylor-Joy. Taylor-Joy has acted in other horror films, including The VVitch (a personal favorite film and role) and Split (no comment). But in this role, she exhibits real growth as an actor and is electric on screen.
Sandie soon meets Jack, whom the audience recognizes immediately as a scumbag. Jack is played by Matt Smith, who is easy to buy as a selfish jerk after his 2-season stint playing Prince Philip on The Crown. But is scumbag Jack evil enough to have driven a knife into poor Sandie? …quite possibly.
While Last Night in Soho fits into the horror genre with its use of the supernatural and its near-celebration of bloody ends, I would more describe it as a literally “haunted” neo-noir.
While things get creepy and dangerous for Eloise, we never feel the kind of dread for her that comes from similar, darker stories like Black Swan. Most of the danger and plot movement instead focuses on the pulpy downfall of Sandie in the past and attempting to solve the murder Eloise witnessed in her vision. And admittedly, sometimes the mystery-solving and ghosts are a little too Are You Afraid of the Dark? for adults.
The only real detractor I have on Last Night in Soho is, ironically…a visual one. Some of the horror scenes are overly reliant on CGI. It’s obvious and really dilutes the intended effect—especially on a big screen which, again, is the best way to appreciate just about every other visual in the whole flick. And it’s a real shame, because most of the ghoulish graphics would have been produced with practical effects. Very disappointing, since we know Wright can produce similar effects ala his first break out film: Shaun of the Dead.
Still, one can appreciate that Last Night in Soho is being timely as it challenges nostalgia for bygone eras.
Importantly, it paints a clear post-Weinstein picture of how history is really about men casually and cheerfully using optimistic or desperate women however they like. Both in the present and past scenes, sometimes Last Night in Soho is more like Being a Woman: The Scary Movie. (Cue a narrator from a 70s slasher: “You’ll never survive…interacting with men.”)
But even the film’s treatment of the tragic Sandie has its surprises. The film creates this sickness around the past and the city, as if ambition itself is a dangerous possessing force.
See Last Night in Soho if you are a general movie fan first, a noir lover second, and a horror nerd third. It’s the sort of kinda-scary, mildly-dark flick that you can enjoy with others. If it were a salsa, I’d call it a “mild spice but packed with flavor that the whole table would enjoy.”