Hey, hey! My first film post since May! It’s been ever too long.
Last Night in Soho is a film I found out about somewhat recently, intrigued more by the cast and director more than the premise itself. Not to say the premise isn’t interesting, but when you have the likes of Thomasin McKenzie, Anya Taylor-Joy, and Matt Smith among the main cast, with Edgar Wright orchestrating the overall, that’s enough starpower to have most at least curious. Though it’s labeled as a horror film, that didn’t deter me from seeing it in theaters fairly quickly.
Like most horror films I’ve seen, however, it ends up being something of an immersive trap.
(Minor story spoilers will be present in this review.)
Those familiar with my blog know that I have a bit of a rocky relationship with the concept of nostalgia. It’s something that I will absolutely revel in when given the opportunity, yet I will venomously criticize it used as a weapon. “Used as a weapon?” Yes, if nostalgia is directly involved in the marketing, appeal, or development of specific properties. Example: Star Wars: The Force Awakens heavily taking from A New Hope and using established characters to use as marketing material.
From what I could gather with this film, it’s basically “What if nostalgia was bad?” The opening segments certainly set this up well—records and vintage film posters adorning the lead’s bedroom, as she flaunts in with a newspaper-style dress. ’60s-era music swings along with the progression of the story, with the lead, Ellie, dreaming of making it big in London as a fashion designer. An emotionally charged, dream-like visual style that intentionally glorifies the past.
Such flair is easy to fall into. As Ellie begins to dream about visions of the past, sights and sounds so real that it’s like she’s truly there, the immersive quality of the film shines through. Delicately evocative and with the same smoothness that many with nostalgia-laden vision see so earnestly.
This is why when everything takes such a drastic tonal change, it’s initially fairly gripping. From one dream to another, the mood changes completely—spirited optimism to an abrupt turn towards debauchery. Characters begin to show their true colors, gripped by the power they clearly hold over others. After a while, these dreams, or visions, begin to tear Ellie’s mental integrity to shreds.
Establishing this foundation of dreams mixed with reality, as well as the continuing mystery of what occurred with “Sandy” from the past, made for fairly gripping entertainment. How it ties into Ellie’s life, and the evolving frustration on her part to change the fate of the past, is generally thrilling. Until the very end, when all things come together.
Usually with these suspenseful, mysterious tales, it’s gratifying to see all things come together. Last Night in Soho ends up suffering from being maybe too predictable, or otherwise rather too straightforward. All throughout, it heavily implies one reality, one end that seems to be the truth… only it is not! Aha! This twist sneaks up on the unsuspecting viewer… assuming they were not actively questioning things throughout. I was that viewer.
While not so obvious that I managed to predict every minute detail, the bigger picture was not totally hard to grasp. When a story tries so desperately to paint one reality, the other side of the coin is but a simple flip of the switch. Like two buttons adorning a wall side by side, with one surrounded by big, bold, red arrows pointing towards it with text that reads, “THIS IS THE RIGHT BUTTON!! PRESS ME!!!!!!!!” Turns out it’s the left button, and the “right” button is the button to the right.
This, perhaps, would not be too much of a sour note if others things were more appreciable. And while the visual style and general performances from the cast were lovely, the development of said cast was never equal. Ellie and Sandy are by far the most intriguing characters, even if one is simply the manifestation of one’s perception. Everyone else… plays their roles.
There is a love interest to Ellie that appears at regular intervals to serve as a love interest. I do not remember his name, nor did I care whatsoever about him as an individual or as a potential partner for Ellie. When it comes to chemistry, they were about as magnetic as paper and stones; the material provided didn’t really facilitate the need for any romantic fuel. It kind of just got in the way.
There’s also a character who serves as a sort of “bully” character, introduced as Ellie’s initial roommate when she’s accepted into a fashion school in London. Like a reality check to Ellie’s naivety, she sets the tone for London not being all “sunshine and rainbows,” and once that’s done, so is she. While still occasionally present throughout the story, she’s given absolutely nothing to do. Such is the fate of many characters, looking back.
Some may be willing to forgive the lack of attention to detail due to the present thrill of the main mystery. To its credit, too, it does provide a visual, occasionally unnerving treat. Two jumpscares slipped into the final product, which I’m sure was a mistake, as all jumpscares are. Nevertheless, the treatment of Ellie’s mental wellbeing and degrading grip on reality makes for splendid entertainment as the film ventures forward, particularly in what it allows visually.
More than anything, Last Night in Soho is a stylishly visual piece that seems more interested in entertainment than complexity. Not the most air-tight plot, nor with the kind of meticulous attention to detail that ensures no scene or character goes to waste. Emphasizing the negative nature of nostalgia ends up being somewhat of an afterthought to all the other underlying themes that present themselves throughout. Kind of a mess, though a nice-looking one.
See it if you’re willing to “turn your brain off” for some psychological-thriller fun. Others more apt to question the boundaries of the narrative or structure may find themselves squinting.
Final Score: 6.5/10
The rating for all other films can be found on my Letterboxd.
For more reviews on this topic, check out the archive of film reviews!
Thank you for your time. Have a great timezone.