Last Night in Soho Review: Wright’s trek into true psychological horror is a can’t miss experience
Writer/director Edgar Wright has really broken into mainstream notoriety with the comedic charm and unique energy of films like Baby Driver, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, and the Cornetto trilogy. His latest film, Last Night in Soho, is far different than what he’s made before though as it doesn’t outwardly feature his usual stylistic trappings.
When Wright talked about Last Night in Soho being a psychological horror film, there was the initial thought that it would be something like Shaun of the Dead’s horror comedy. However, Wright’s usual comedic stylings aren’t really in Last Night in Soho. Wright’s musically choreographed action and unique humor aren’t as prevalent and while his sense of charm with his characters and storytelling is still there, Last Night in Soho is a different approach for the director with the excellent visuals, moments of horror, and mature themes found within the film.
Although Last Night in Soho lives up to Wright’s claims of it being true psychological horror, he doesn’t immediately introduce the film like that and rather eases viewers into Eloise’s (Thomasin McKenzie) dreams of designing clothes at a prestigious London college. Eloise’s love of the 60s that stems from her deceased mother carries this charming youthful energy that just booms from the opening and McKenzie’s sparky performance. Wright instantly gets you hooked on the 60s era music and Eloise’s motivations for achieving the dreams her mother couldn’t. Her ambitions and fantasizing of her future are super relatable and the way that they’re slowly crushed as she really discovers what city living is equally impactful.
Since Eloise has really only known her small hometown, her vision of the city is based on a fantasy driven by the glorious stories of her mom and grandmother being there. Thus, once she arrives in London, she quickly realizes that city atmosphere is vastly different, and Wright captures that well. Eloise’s arrival in London comes with a must faster pace, harsher tones that are especially brought on by her original roommate Jocasta (Synnove Karlsen), a more competitive environment, and some darker shades that make you a little weary of people. The initial interaction Eloise has with a sleazy cab driver and the way that Jocasta outcasts her really evoke that culture shock of shifting into city living. Although there are still some aspects of Eloise’s journey within London that show that her dreams to still be obtainable, Eloise’s fantasy of the city is ripped away to show the darker innards within – something that’s equally prevalent in Eloise’s trip back into the 60s.
Upon moving into a flat just inside of Soho, a lively area of the West End of London, Eloise finds herself transporting in her sleep into the life of aspiring lounge singer Sandie (Anya Taylor-Joy). Like Eloise, Sandie is determined to make it in Soho and her sense of ambition is just as relatable. Taylor-Joy’s excellent performance not only gives Sandie a booming singing voice, but also a determination and confidence that makes her that underdog you want to see succeed. Even in the initial moments of Eloise walking through the 60s as Sandie, you can see why these two fantasize about this place and time as Chung-hoon Chung’s cinematography evokes that bright light, big city feels that’s matched by the energy and eye-dazzling movement of Wright’s musical direction.
Like Eloise though, Sandie’s dreams are shattered by the horrors of reality. Her horrors, however, are much more gut-wrenching as the boisterous music environment horrifically turns into the red-light district. This sudden realization of Sadie and Eloise’s fantasizes becoming nightmares is really where the film takes a strong tonal shift into horror and it’s very effective. For the first act or so, you really find yourself comforted in the same way that Eloise and Sandie are, so when their visions are shattered, you’re just as caught off-guard as they are. It’s an effective shift that really makes the horrifying turns in Sandie’s story land a deep impact. The skin-crawling relationship she has with her abusive pimp Jack (Matt Smith) constantly leaves you on edge and makes her drug and sex-filled nightmare inescapable. The way that the energy changes in the dancing and atmosphere of Eloise’s trips back in time really puts a realistic, dour spin on things. This story direction really showcases some of the once hidden abuse and wrongdoings of “making it” in entertainment and Wright holds nothing back in creating some stark visuals and scares.
Each time Eloise heads back into Sandie’s shoes, she takes a part of her story and identity with her that at first influences some positive changes, but eventually bring back some of her trauma as well. The horrifying visions she sees of sickening men that abused Sandie and some intense bloodshed constantly leave you uneasy and really reflect Eloise becoming more haunted by the past in the present. It really feels like the past is trying to consume Eloise and it’s such a great way for Last Night in Soho to offer some personal psychological horror. Even the way that Wright beautifully shows these mirroring shots of Eloise and Sandie in the past take terrifying turns and this sense of fantasy and reality colliding in horror-fueled ways are really what make Last Night in Soho feel like a more mature film for Wright.
Once Wright establishes the horrors of Last Night in Soho, it evolves into a thrilling mystery with some mixed conclusions. The idea of the film turning into a thrilling psychological mystery of Eloise attempting to uncover what happened to Sandie makes sense given how it affects her in the present and adds another layer to the past bleeding into the present. It’s really where the psychological scares start to ramp up to heart-pounding, nerve-shredding levels.
However, the results of this mystery aren’t exactly the most satisfying as it drastically changes your perspective of Sandie and slightly muddies up her story of abuse. The more I’ve thought on it, the big turn that Sandie’s story takes is likely meant to represent how the abuse she faced continued to affect her and how this abusive atmosphere only creates monsters that continue the cycle. However, the last act takes such a shocking, completely out of nowhere turn that you barely have any real time to process it and it isn’t built in a way that feels satisfying or possible. It feels cheap in the ways that you don’t see it coming and it doesn’t allow for much thought on it so you’re just kind of left to deal with it.
Even for the way it falters in concluding its mystery, Last Night in Soho is a strong trek into psychological horror for Wright that sees his direction and storytelling take a more mature turn. His usual charm and style take new horrifying forms that fit well in a story that turns innocent fantasy into realistic nightmares that make for a can’t miss horror experience.