Venice 2021: Edgar Wright's London Horror Film 'Last Night in Soho'
by David Mouriquand
September 6, 2021
Nearly a year after it originally was due to be released, Edgar Wright's Last Night in Soho finally makes its bow playing in the Out of Competition section at the 2021 Venice Film Festival. Thomasin Mackenzie stars as Eloise, a budding modern-day fashion student who moves from Cornwall to London; there, she is quickly ostracized by her chic "gap yaaah" London College of Fashion peers who cruelly label her "code beige". Fleeing student housing and finding a bedsit rented to her by the kind-but-no-nonsense Miss Collins (the late Diana Rigg, to whom the film is dedicated), she is soon dreamily transported back to 60s Soho. During these lucid nocturnal trips, she meets what seems to be her suppressed id / alter-ego, Sandie (Anya Taylor-Joy), a confident singer starting a relationship with smooth bequiffed operator Jack (Matt Smith), who promises to help her achieve cabaret stardom. But the barriers separating past and present soon begin to collapse and the glamorous feel of a time that Eloise idolises starts to open some much darker doors.
"London can be a lot", our fish-out-of-water fabled heroine is told. Too right: initially alluring, alive with the buzz of ambition, but also haunted by neon-lit sleaze that’s a far cry from the tourist walking tours. And it’s this more sordid side that Wright brings to the fore. The British director has previously shown with Spaced and Shaun of the Dead that he's already well versed in the horror genre, and for his first full-on foray into psychological terror (with a time-hopping twist and a debt to Roman Polanski's Repulsion), he populates his London giallo with a grab-bag of tropes from various subgenres: ghostly hauntings, zombie-like hordes of past spirits and slasher attacks. And in many ways, the bleeding of perilous dreams into reality recalls the sleep haunting antics of a razor-gloved prick who continues to haunt my nightmares. All these elements are expertly blended together without feeling messy or overstuffed, which is an achievement in and of itself.
Massive plaudits also go to the production and location team, who managed to believably whisk you back to the vibrant times of swinging Soho of the 1960s. Marcus Rowland's fantastic designs along with Odile Dicks-Mireaux's spot-on costumes of all kinds are equaled by Chung-hoon Chung's cinematography, which elevates the intoxicating nature of the retro playground. To which adds itself a lovingly curated soundtrack, featuring needle-drops from Petula Clark, Cilla Black and The Kinks. And like a great 60s pop track, Last Night in Soho brilliantly crescendos to a climax which redeems the film's slower first half and some weaker elements – especially a plot strand revolving around Terrence Stamp's bar-haunting stranger.
The best part by far are the mirror-based sequences. Reminiscent of the famous mimicking mirror scenes in Marx Brothers' Duck Soup, or even that X-Files episode ("Dreamland" - part of Season 6) in which David Duchovny and Michael McKean aped each other's movements to perfection, the technical trickery when it comes to reflective surfaces works wonders. Mid-shot switcheroos are seamlessly and precisely achieved and serve to buttress the mystery regarding who Sandie really is to Eloise: a manifestation of schizophrenia or a doppelganger aching to burst from the past into the present?
No more shall be revealed here, but safe to say that the thoroughly entertaining screenplay by Wright and Krysty Wilson-Cairns shines and allows for various interpretations: as well as being about overlapping intergenerational trauma and the exploitation of women, Last Night in Soho can be seen as a cautionary tale about the intoxicating dangers of romanticising eras and reductive nostalgia. The last act leans in closer to warn you that letting go of the past is not only healthy, but may save you from sordid and bloody ends. So, while Last Night in Soho doesn’t feel like Wright’s most accomplished film, you can nevertheless smash the mirrors of past glory days and embrace this wickedly stylish fairy tale. As if your life depended on it.
David's Venice 2021 Rating: 4 out of 5
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