Edgar Wright is the kind of director whose reverence for films of the past is obvious, with nods to classics throughout his filmography. Nowhere is this more apparent than in Last Night in Soho, which takes the nostalgia to a nightmarish extreme while paying tribute to psychological thriller films of the past. It’s a slick horror experience, an ambitious project that meets the expectations of an audience that has made Last Night in Soho one of the most highly anticipated releases of the year.
Last Night in Soho focuses on Eloise (Thomasin McKenzie), a young woman heading to fashion college in London after living in her grandmother’s small town home for most of her life. We learn that Eloise’s mother died by suicide when she was a child, and since then, Eloise has had a sixth sense that allows her to see the ghost of her mother in mirrors. Shy and sweet, Eloise is in for a culture shock when she arrives at her dorm to find her mean girl roommate Jocasta marking her territory. It seems the rest of the students have more experience than her in almost everything, bringing out Eloise’s own insecurities and making her feel alone in the sea of thousands in London.
It’s no wonder, then, that she soon finds her own apartment on the top floor of an old building under the watchful eye of landlady Mrs. Collins. Eloise’s obsession with the 1960s means she gets along well with the much older woman, and despite the apartment’s quirks, she makes it her own. All is well until Eloise begins having dreams about Sandie (Anya Taylor-Joy), a woman trying to make it as a lounge singer in 1960s London with her manager/boyfriend Jack (a menacing yet charming Matt Smith). While at first Sandie’s world seems wonderful and gives Eloise a much needed jolt of inspiration, it quickly turns to a terrifying realm as Eloise sees Sandie suffer at the hands of abusive men before being murdered by one of them. As Sandie’s life begins to intrude into Eloise’s waking moments, the question of what Sandie wants with Eloise looms large, and Eloise must discover what happened to her if she wants to make it out alive.
Thomasin McKenzie and Anya Taylor-Joy both give bravura performances that anchor the film and keep the audience invested. McKenzie, who was fabulous in Leave No Trace, elevates a role that in the hands of a lesser actress could have been a caricature. We see Eloise’s strength despite her meek nature, and McKenzie plays on her fear and sadness without relying on hysteria. Taylor-Joy is tasked with playing a character who is constantly shifting, one minute a confident party girl and the next a hardened, traumatized woman. There is something about Taylor-Joy that is massively compelling on-screen, and this star quality makes it easy to see why Eloise would become obsessed with Sandie. Dame Diana Rigg is also excellent in her final film role as Mrs. Collins, with her scenes in the final act being a particular highlight.
Wright had a world-class team to create his vision, and the passion every crew member involved clearly had for this project is apparent in each frame. Last Night in Soho is a technical masterpiece, with tricky shots that seem impossible. One, in particular, occurs as Sandie dances with Jack, and Eloise switches places with her mid-move to illustrate that Eloise is experiencing Sandie’s life firsthand. The amount of mirror work Taylor-Joy and McKenzie do together is astonishing, and a special shout out to the camera operators and cinematographer Chung-hoon Chung (who also did unsettling work on It and will soon share his talents with Obi-Wan Kenobi for Disney+) is in order. Costume designer Odile Dicks-Mireaux (An Education, Brooklyn) also had a Herculean task in assembling the vintage wardrobe for Sandie’s scenes while also dressing the fashion-forward students in modern London, and she delivers here with gorgeous costumes that are instantly memorable. There’s no doubt Sandie’s pink dress will become an iconic horror piece in the years to come.
The music supervision team headed by Kirsten Lane (who also performed this role on Wright’s Baby Driver, which also boasts a fantastic soundtrack) has assembled the perfect period soundtrack. The use of the song “Last Night in Soho” that the film takes its title from is expertly placed along with perhaps the best use of “Downtown” by Petula Clark since Lost. Overall, the production design and costuming teams do an excellent job of recreating 1960s London while infusing our modern world with flashes of the past.
Wright pays homage to a wide range of classics from Suspiria to Repulsion. The blinking neon lights outside Eloise’s window that bleed into her dreams are visually stunning, and the ghosts Eloise sees are creepy without overdoing it. Last Night in Soho’s most surprising strength is the way it portrays the loneliness that comes with attempting to make an adult life. Eloise’s mental illness is handled compassionately, and she is intensely relatable even as her lived experience with seeing ghosts of the past is not. Wright and co-writer Kristy Wilson-Cairns are fascinated by the contrast between the imagined idyllic 1960s Eloise imagines and the harsh reality of that time, particularly for women, and Last Night in Soho explores that tension expertly. The film’s twisty ending is a shocker, and yet it fits with the overall themes Wright and Wilson-Cairns establish early on.
Last Night in Soho pays tribute to the past while challenging the glorification of it, and its visual brilliance is not to be missed. Once again, Wright has another hit on his hands, and Taylor-Joy continues to prove the years of praise she has received are well deserved as she turns in one of her best performances. Last Night in Soho is sure to be a modern horror classic, and it is not to be missed.
A note: Last Night in Soho does not flinch at discussing topics including sexual assault, domestic abuse, and suicidal ideation, and viewers should be warned going in that there is graphic imagery of all three. However, none of the moments we see are gratuitous, all playing an integral role in the plot.
Last Night in Soho is in theaters now.