THE STORY – In this psychological thriller, Eloise, an aspiring fashion designer, is mysteriously able to enter the 1960s where she encounters a dazzling wannabe singer, Sandie. But the glamour is not all it appears to be and the dreams of the past start to crack and splinter into something far darker.
THE CAST – Anya Taylor-Joy, Thomasin Harcourt McKenzie, Matt Smith, Terence Stamp, Diana Rigg, Rita Tushingham, Michael Ajao & Synnøve Karlsen
THE TEAM – Edgar Wright (Director/Writer)
THE RUNNING TIME – 118 Minutes
By Cody Dericks
I usually find that Edgar Wright’s films live up to his last name’s homonym. The English director has yet to make a bad movie, and I undoubtedly count myself as a fan of his work. So, it saddens me to report that his latest, “Last Night in Soho,” ultimately left me feeling entertained but substantively unsatisfied. The ride started out fun, but I wasn’t sure where we were going anymore by the end.
Eloise (Thomasin McKenzie) is a young woman who has just moved from the countryside to London to study fashion. Her excitement quickly turns to stress and self-doubt when both her new classmates and the big city overwhelm her. However, one night she has a vivid dream wherein she finds herself in her favorite time and place: London during the swinging ’60s. The main character of this dream is Sandy (Anya Taylor-Joy), an aspiring singer. Eloise finds herself returning to this world of the past every night, and it provides inspiration for both her school and personal life. But things start to change when the lines between dream and reality begin to blur frighteningly.
The premise is an intriguing one, and Wright explores his initial concept in an unbelievably satisfying way. The first act completely enamored me. We quickly and easily find Eloise’s struggles sympathetic and relatable, thanks in equal parts to the direction and McKenzie’s performance. When we first tumble into Sandy’s fantastical world, it’s positively delightful. The first dream sequence, in particular, is a thrill – it combines Wright’s penchant for clever blocking and imagery with his dynamic camera and editing style. The production design and costumes make the audience feel as excited for this accidental time warp as Eloise.
Unfortunately, once the central conflict becomes apparent, the narrative gets increasingly more and more questionable in its choices. This is extra disappointing considering that this is precisely when the film becomes more of a horror movie and shifts its tone from exciting to darkly thrilling. I was excited to see Wright do horror (he proved that he could work in that realm well while still maintaining a hilarious tone in “Shaun of the Dead“). Those specific elements do work well by themselves – even if they’re somewhat repetitive – but the story they’re serving is less than satisfying. This is, consequently, Wright’s most humorless film, and I wonder if removing that element from his work somehow weakened his ability to tell a story as effectively as he usually does.
The look of the film remains exceptional throughout. It’s not as consistently kinetic or fast-paced as “Baby Driver” or “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World,” but that suits the story that Wright is telling. It still features undeniably impressive editing, especially as the fantastical and real worlds begin to meld, and the costumes are breathtaking. Everything that Sandy wears is gorgeous and true to her character’s personality. She’s a proper 60s “it girl” in the style of Twiggy and Edie Sedgwick.
Taylor-Joy does just as much work as her characters’ aesthetics to sell Sandy as a creation from another era. She consistently fits the film’s tone perfectly, even as it molds and changes as the movie progresses. She’s inspiringly confident when she needs to be and sympathetic at other points. It’s easy to see why Eloise becomes obsessed with her. McKenzie is a compelling protagonist. It’s hard not to feel for her during her struggles as the young actress is inherently magnetic and quickly plays into the audience’s empathy. Once her character experiences more dire circumstances, she finds subtle differences in her fearful reactions. This proves to be essential as many of the horror sequences lack variety in their imagery and scare tactics.
While I wasn’t too fond of where it ended up, the film’s stunning first act is enough for me to recommend it still. I can’t call anything that had me grinning with delight for nearly an hour a total disappointment.
THE FINAL SCORE
THE GOOD – Edgar Wright’s latest film starts incredibly strong. The two leads and the look of the film are consistently exceptional.
THE BAD – The horror elements are repetitive, and the narrative takes some questionable turns that are a disappointing decline from the film’s stunning first act.
THE OSCARS – None