“They’re meant to talk to you about their problems, not the other way around,” said the bar maid to Eloise (Thomasin McKenzie) in reference to the boy offering her a sympathetic ear (Michael Ajao as “John”). This character plays no overtly major function in the story. Yet when she said this, I was able to understand how the spark behind this movie had bled to a larger truth that the way we glamourize the past is by admiring and being loyal to its products.
Eloise is a step beyond someone who romanticizes a bygone era. She lost her mother at a young age and by investing in the clothes, music, and literal walls in which she believes her mother lived, she ties her identity into her grasping at what she believes is left of their relationship. When she finally moves to Soho, we see generations of glamorizing fame and fortune embodied minimally but effectively in her roommates. Then Eloise begins to question whether she should pursue a relationship with John (whose name HAS to be ironic) based on a history and interests at odds with her peers, and she’s pushed towards him by a peer hazing her and playing “mean girl.” This is when she’s given the above stated insight into the ideology of the bar-maid, advice from the time to which she aspires: Don’t pursue a relationship with him. Women serve men, not the other way around.
At the same time, Eloise has been falling deeper into her literal dream world by following Sandy (Anya Taylor-Joy) towards a threat that smoothly and rapidly begins to become a louder and louder, both audibly and visually, sign that the things she “loves” come at a cost she wouldn’t pay. It’s a shift of identify for Eloise, learning to embrace what makes her unique without damning people who force expectations on her.
Originally I thought this would be a parallel between Eloise and Sandy, and a simple, cautionary, supernatural thriller about a girl who sees horrific things in the past and tries to escape to safety. “Last Night in Soho,” turns out to be more of a ghost-fueled mystery about the changes in romantic relationships over decades. But I don’t think it’s an accident that while this movie gives caution regarding nostalgia, there are also almost ridiculously overt influences, used like puzzle-pieces to build a few sequences of this movie, literally relating feelings of horror to being referential to the past.
The soundtrack is as loaded as it can be with 60’s classics that serve different purposes in different contexts, all used effectively, and Steven Price‘s original score seres to give the haunting tone of a ghost story, though I can’t hum any distinct theme. Visually, I don’t usually use the word dazzling… but… I was dazzled. The performances across the board are strong and purposeful and Edgar Wright directs with clear vision. The credits even show off the set design for London between title cards, which is well earned.
The problem I have with the movie, however, is that it leans more on what the audience knows, and should dread (though due to recent years, and being in a post “me too” world, we wouldn’t), while utilizing the simple story at its base as a plotted mystery rather than a straightforward thriller. I also wish there had been some slight adjustment so the audience wasn’t tricked into believing one key detail involving a stabbing before a truth is revealed. (It’s easy to hide a twist if you just tell an audience that what they saw was actually something else then show them something else.) In fact, the scale between reality and illusion is a bit blurry.
Edgar Wright crafted a story, co-wrote it with Krysty Wilson-Cairns, and told it in a movie that has its own merits, tension, thrills, and creative vision. Unfortunately I can’t help but wonder how this story would have felt laid out as a simple narrative about Anya Taylor-Joy’s character being told to Eloise by her grandmother as a framing device, or if it had simply had a more grounded, atmospheric tone akin to “Portrait of a Lady on Fire,” All in all, it’s more original than most, Edgar Wright does an excellent job branching into a genre he hasn’t previously explored, and reflecting on the two leads offers plenty of “depth” for people hoping to walk away with something of value from the experience.
It is HARD not to talk about the movie with spoilers. Without giving any, there are Sweeney Todd aspects, a thousand tiny decisions that could’ve helped the story feel more focused/purposeful, clunky dances around the morality of murder, allusions to sex before a montage of sex (and other implications that are quickly spelled out for the audience). But it’s likely you WILL CARE about the characters and the story lives on and through them.
Side note– this is the second main-stream movie released this year inspired heavily by 60’s and 70’s horror with “Malignant.”
…This is not an attempt to be tongue-in-cheek the way Malignant is, and some may be thrown off by some tonal similarities, but I just wanted to say, yay for horror lately!