Genre: Supernatural Horror and Mystery Running Time: 1 hr. 56 min.
Release Date: October 29th, 2021 MPAA Rating: R
Director: Edgar Wright Actors: Thomasin McKenzie, Anya Taylor-Joy, Matt Smith, Terence Stamp, Diana Rigg, Synnove Karlsen
hen Eloise “Ellie” Turner (Thomasin McKenzie) gets accepted to the London College of Fashion, she believes her dreams are about to come true. And in a way, they do. Each evening, Ellie dreams of, and sometimes literally becomes, Sandie (Anya Taylor-Joy), an ambitious wannabe nightclub crooner in 1960s London. But what begins as a midnight reverie in dazzling locales quickly becomes a nightmare when sleazy talent agent Jack (Matt Smith) exposes her to the sordid underbelly of the entertainment industry. As Eloise experiences more and more of Sandie’s tragic life, she soon becomes wrapped up in her double’s dour activities – as well as haunted by the ghosts of the singer’s past.
Something is immediately amiss, as the imagery lingers on uncanny reflections of a person not actually in the room with Ellie. It’s not scary at first, but it’s certainly a precursor to the specific horror elements to come, as little details about former, traumatic happenings and mental health issues surface. This blends nicely with the premise of a young girl in a strange, sprawling city, where avoiding harassment is instantly problematic, and where fitting in is a significant hurdle. Like in “Black Swan” and “The Neon Demon,” the pressures of conforming and succeeding are enormous; socializing through drinking and partying (and other hallucinogenic distractions) becomes a necessity for easing such transitions.
But Ellie’s discomfort also arises from continuously having eerie visions; since the audience sees events through her viewpoint, the discernment between what is real or not grows discomforting. Unfortunately, the character development is grossly generic, leaving a lot to be desired from the leading personas. The performances aren’t bad, but investing in such commonplace personalities (or ones whose grips on reality are steadily unraveling) is taxing, even when the script hopes to elevate thrills by introducing a haunted house of sorts, mixed together with a time-travel portal and body-swapping perspective (lending to some curious cinematographic effects, many of which are more engaging than actually following the plot).
As with writer/director Edgar Wright’s other films, the soundtrack is quite agreeable, and a vital part of the narrative – though this one sounds as if the songs were chosen first, before the story was penned around those selections. Weirdly, the contemporary musical choices even extend into the jump scares, once again as if the soundtrack was designed before the premise. And when the picture isn’t trying to be spooky, it’s something of a bland fantasy about the glitz and glamor of London in the ‘60s, aiming to represent stereotypical dreams about striking it big in show biz, with starry-eyed girls wearing silky garments, singing and dancing to swinging melodies, and being shown a grand old time by a sharply-suited man; despite cowriter Krysty Wilson-Cairns’ involvement, this feels as if a woman’s fantasy seen through the eyes of Wright, complete with his penchant for zombies and bloody violence. And when McKenzie and Taylor-Joy don various costumes and vivid makeup, repeatedly shimmying about seductively, it’s almost like his version of “Sucker Punch,” with two sexy young starlets as his very own dress-up dolls.
Regardless, it takes a remarkable amount of time before anything interesting happens; it’s all exceptionally slow-moving, reiterating the cruel world of abusive showmen and helpless victims, failing to make any character sympathetic or exciting. Even the supporting roles are bland and unconvincing, largely due to the fact that no one behaves with any sense of realism; protagonists and antagonists alike are blind to the happenings around them, acting as if Ellie’s increasingly odd activities and reactions are trifling curiosities. “Do you believe in ghosts?”
When “Last Night in Soho” attempts straightforward horror, it likewise fails miserably, embracing every trope imaginable, while inundating viewers with so many mirror-based boo moments that no sequence with a reflection maintains any sort of surprise. Phantasmal imagery is just as disappointing, reminding of countless other spectral shockers (pieces of “The Sixth Sense, “Crimson Peak,” and “Doctor Sleep” are all highly evident). And the rest of it is an exasperatingly repetitive mess of dancing and partying and sudden vicarious visions from Ellie’s id-duality, followed by a frenzied panic and further dancing. So many scenes are redundant that it’s difficult to know when the story is actually moving forward. And since the murder-mystery is basically solved from the onset, it’s never a nail-biting sprint to uncover some elusive enigma. By the easily guessable conclusion, “Last Night in Soho” proves to be a discouragingly unoriginal, tremendously unsatisfying, and unexpectedly bizarre medley of discordant genres and recycled concepts.
– The Massie Twins