Anyone walking into an Edgar Wright movie should be ready for a visual assault of the senses. Going from making parodies of horror films, Edgar Wright directs a horror thriller. It’s a breath of fresh air to see a filmmaker take on different material, continuing to challenge himself rather than going back to the well of comedy. The result is a fun nauseating ride of terror.
A bit like Baby Driver, Last Night In Soho’s tone is centered around the protagonist’s state of mind. Eloise (Thomasin McKenzie) is a lovely girl from the suburbs moving to London’s Soho district to become a fashion designer. The culture shock surrounding her is instantaneous. A cab driver comments on her legs being attractive, an old stranger in a coat follows her around while calling her by name; the apartment complex she occupies is one of the grimiest places you could imagine living in. Complete with a flashing neon light by the window to drive anyone mad.
Attempting to cut off the world for a good night’s sleep, Eloise throws the sheets over her head, transporting her to 1960’s Soho. Looking in the mirror, Eloise is no longer who she thinks she is. She’s now Sandie (Anya Taylor Joy). In Eloise’s dreams, Sandie pursues a suave charismatic talent booker named Jack (Matt Smith). The shift between reality and fantasy blurs with the dizzying camera swirling around its harsh party lighting, intoxicating the audience—all designed to resemble Eloise’s rapidly declining state of mind.
The cast is outstanding on all accounts. Thomasin McKenzie is spectacular. Her range is out of this world. I should expect no less after her outstanding performance in Joe Joe Rabbit. Anya Taylor Joy radiates with confidence. There’s a darkness to her character that fits Ms. Joy’s quirky persona just fine making her the perfect mirror image to Ms. McKenzie. The supporting cast does a fine job backing the film’s two leading players. If you like Dr. Who, you might not be too happy to see Matt Smith playing an abusive pimp, and quite believably. He doesn’t hold back when shouting sexist expletives in multiple states of uncontrollable rage. The late Diana Rigg (the original Avenger) is blistering with life playing something far more intimidating than the typical curmudgeon landlord.
Don’t look for subtlety in an Edgar Wright film. Everything is as loud as possible, but it’s never without purpose. Like syncing car chases to musical beats in Baby’s world, the record is Eloise’s studio apartment seamlessly syncs from diegetic to nondiegetic, warping the audience’s perception of reality. The frantic editing from Paul Machliss dissociates the crowd into a mary go-round of anxiety. Everything is made to be off-kilter and over the top. Maybe more than to some people’s likings, but what do you expect from The Shaun of The Dead director? If you’re looking for more substance beyond the surface, then an Edgar Wright film isn’t what you’d be looking for.
Being haunted by the past and wanting to live up to something are all familiar themes that have been tackled repeatedly. The trick to making a movie work above the rest isn’t saying anything different but tweaking how the cinematic conventions tell it. That’s why we love seeing franchises rebooted. There’s plenty of films like Last Night in Soho, but many don’t come across as visually dynamic or with such astounding performances. Admittedly the film bites off more than it can chew, telling another tale of women being hunted by predators. A topic that men shouldn’t be depicting so much, in all honesty. The ending also hardly makes any sense; then again, neither does angry ghosts trying to scare you. Everything works out despite some clear implications that Eloise could have wound up in jail or the funny farm. You don’t almost stab someone in a public library and get away with it. Still, there’s enough pazazz in its pacing and style to make Last Night in Soho a night worth spending in the theater.