Out of the many names whose mention would get my attention, few will actually get me excited and one of those names is Edgar Wright. From the Cornetto trilogy to Scott Pilgrim and Baby Driver, I’ve loved everything he has done thus far, but this year was always going to be a special time to be an Edgar Wright fan. Not only are we getting two projects directed by Wright, but both are pretty special. For The Sparks Brothers, it marks Wright’s first documentary feature while Last Night in Soho, it is Wright’s first horror movie; I’ve not seen The Sparks Brothers yet as it did not open where I live and I wanted to wait for any screening, but Last Night in Soho has finally arrived.
Co-written and directed by Wright (alongside Krysty Wilson-Cairns of 1917 fame), Last Night in Soho stars Thomasin McKenzie as Eloise, a young student living the dream and moving to London to study Fashion at a prestigious university and getting to experience the place where lots of her idols and interests made their impact. She loves the 60s, whether that is fashion or music from that era, she dreams of living there and experiencing that magical era for herself; as this is a horror movie though, not everything goes according to plan, as she starts to dream of Sandie (Anya Taylor-Joy) and her story but it becomes clear that this is certainly not a dream and maybe not even fiction…
Needless to say, Edgar Wright has made a gorgeous-looking movie, once again being one of the most stylish and unique visual storytellers working today and every time I feel like I’ve seen his best work, his next movie comes out and I am proven wrong once again. Collaborating for the first time with Chung-Hoon Chung, legendary cinematographer and collaborator of Park Chan-Wook (they worked together on Oldboy, The Handmaiden, Lady Vengeance, Thirst, Stoker), their work can only speak for itself as it is a shame to describe what one should just see. Their commitment to creating off-putting, dream-like sequences, creating elaborate and perfectly-timed sequences is the sort of work that would inspire a whole new generation of movie-goers to think “how did they do that?” and maybe implant or awake that bug that makes them want to try something similar or as interesting as that. Their work with colors, framing, camera positioning and movement, characters, and actors creating moments that stick with you because of their beauty or dream-like (well, nightmare-like for this case) qualities are too good to spoil. Steven Price, collaborating composer of Wright’s movies since The World’s End, also returns with a great soundtrack that I found less memorable when compared to some of his previous work on Wright movies in particular. Thus, all the pieces of an Edgar Wright movie are here and all are excellent, but how will a director known for comedies and energetic directing fare against the new challenge of horror, especially horror that aims to scare and disturb through themes and ideas rather than jump-scares?
Last Night in Soho is a brilliant movie that achieves its main goal with flair, style, and confidence, despite some flaws and less-than-ideal moments. Through my reading, the main idea for Last Night in Soho is that nostalgia is a rosy way to look at the past that can inspire and lead to good things, but is also a way for people to brush away the darkness that lays underneath the glamour. It leads to big dreams and high aspirations, but the bigger the dream the scarier the nightmare becomes; dreams take sacrifices, luck, and a strong mentality, but even then, those may not be enough as there are vultures lurking or you can get lost in a sea of same-looking dreamers. That is what Last Night in Soho did so brilliantly for me; it got me to ask two important questions: “What if things don’t work out?” and “How can things turn so ugly?”. There is a fascination when looking back at these eras to look at the success stories, to reference the people that did things their way and succeeded, but we glance over the countless of people who failed and what that does to someone – that pressure to succeed at all costs – while also avoiding the scariest situation of them all: What if you do have what it takes, yet you are exploited by people who only pretend to care? It’s those questions the movie explores and Thomasin McKenzie in particular embodies that dreamer who carries all that optimism and that weight on her shoulders and in her heart. Anya Taylor-Joy, alongside Diana Rigg (who sadly passed before the movie got released), both steal the show in terms of their performance having moments that they exploit to brilliant results, but I loved McKenzie’s performance especially.
While that central pillar holds firm throughout the entirety of the movie, backed by strong performances, Last Night in Soho does stumble in some other areas, mainly in connecting everything together to make a coherent whole. While there is some attention to detail (especially in the way colors are used), connecting what clearly inspired the movie (the dream sequences) along with the more interesting elements of the story was an effort that ended with mediocre results. There are a few lines of dialogue thrown in the beginning to explain an integral part of the story, characters that are part of a great scene that is made to be as scary and memorable as possible, might as well develop amnesia from one scene to the next as they continue to do the same thing without the events of the previous scene affecting them. Like I often say (and it holds extra value in horror movies), my experience of a movie is not shaped by how realistic it looks or logic dictating everything a character does or does not, however, there is value in immersing the audience in that world and then doing everything to not let them escape. Moments of pure cinema magic, like Mckenzie and Taylor-Joy meeting for the first time; the whole arc of Eloise; great build-up and the pay-off for a scene that involves an alarm. That is what most of the movie is all about, but it simply doesn’t maintain that brilliance all the way through, and instead of engaging with the themes of the movie – to which I am especially vulnerable to as my own fears and anxieties are very close to those – I started wondering about logic and continuity.
There are other smaller issues here and there, such as obvious red herrings, but those don’t affect the movie or the mystery in any significant way. Last Night in Soho is still a brilliant movie, despite these flaws, simply because it’s a brilliant movie with exceptional moments and scenes, connected by mediocre writing and context; as a fan of Wright, I’m used to that and I cared little about that during most of the movie and on the ride back home. In my mind were the beautiful-shot scenes, the moments that burned themselves in the back of my mind, and the disturbing, lasting, and personally-impacting themes. Wright has never made a perfect movie nor do I think he should; he has a very clear vision of what his movies ought to be and always tries to adhere to that, rather than balancing or compromising it for others. It’s why he is so beloved by fans, it’s why his movies are so impactful, and it is why Last Night in Soho is so good.