Edgar Wright seems to be on a quest to craft meta-musicals in all of his favorite genres. The underappreciated graphic novel adaptation “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World” was his first. A few years later he followed it up with the action-romance “Baby Driver” and now the psychological horror “Last Night in Soho.” While none of these feature actors spontaneously breaking into song, the music is integral to the experience, informing the scene and giving us insight into the characters.
Over the course of the opening song, we learn everything we need to know about Eloise (Thomasin McKenzie). She’s a passionate fashion designer, she’s obsessed with the ’60s, and she sees dead people. In the years since Eloise’s mother took her own life, she has lived with her supportive grandmother (Rita Tushingham) who is aware of her ability. Eloise’s obsession with the ’60s, Soho, and fashion mirror the interests of her late mother. This combination ended up being too much for her mother, but with her acceptance to the London College of Fashion, Eloise will soon have the opportunity to experience it herself.
At first, London is everything she dreamt it would be, but a group of mean girls in her dorm compels Eloise to find a room to rent in a nearby home. The home is owned by a sweet yet strict old woman named Ms. Collins (Diana Rigg) whose main rule is “No Boys!” The decor of the small bedroom looks like it hasn’t been updated since the ’60s which is exactly what the nostalgic Eloise desires. But that night she’s drawn into another reality, reliving the memories of a beautiful, energetic, aspiring singer from the past. It’s 1966 and Sandie (Anya Taylor-Joy) is ready to take the world by storm. She has confidence, talent, and a beautiful voice. From the moment she enters the local club, she commands the room. Everyone is a slave to her energy, including Jack (Matt Smith), a local talent agent. Jack is instantly smitten and together they embark on a whirlwind romance.
Sandie is everything that Eloise wishes she was, living the life she wishes she had. Eloise’s nightly journies into the visions of the past begin to have both a positive and negative impact on her real life. She carries herself with more confidence and has found inspiration in Sandie’s unique wardrobe, but she also begins spending more time in the dream world than living her life. Unfortunately, it’s not long before the nostalgia fades and the truth about this time period and location reveals its ugliness. Innocence is lost and Eloise beings to be haunted by trauma from the past, even in her waking hours.
In many ways, “Last Night in Soho” is a cinematic treat. The acting is all top-notch, as is the production design, cinematography, and soundtrack. There is so much eye candy to consume all set to delightful tunes. Cinematographer Chung-hoon Chung, who has also worked on “Oldboy,” “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl,” and “The Handmaiden” pulls out all the stops with this film. It’s often breathtaking. The only area this movie falters is in the script, specifically the third act. Up until that point, it seems to be about something. There’s a message about blind nostalgia, living in the present, and the exploitation of women in the entertainment industry. But then the message gets muddled as the line between victim and abuser is blurred and multiple characters begin to behave in ways that serve the plot in lieu of how we’d expect them to behave. (Including the ghosts!) It doesn’t help that Eloise’s “powers” are never clearly defined. Many are calling this a time-travel movie when it’s nothing of the sort. Instead, it seems Eloise is a true empath. It may not be the actual ghosts of dead people she is seeing, but the memories and energy they left behind.
Few directors can weave music into their visual storytelling as well as Edgar Wright. Even with a less than satisfying conclusion, “Last Night in Soho” is certainly worth watching.
Last Night in Soho