Last Night In Soho (2021)

Rating: ***
Review Date: 11/12/21
Director: Edgar Wright
Cast: Thomasin McKenzie, Anya Taylor-Joy, Matt Smith, Diana Rigg, Terence Stamp, Synnove Karlsen

Ellie Turner (Thomasin McKenzie) is a talented young woman who moves to London to become a fashion designer. However, London is a dangerous place and the culture shock of the big city is a difficult adjustment for her to make. She's also socially awkward and a bit naïve, and is immediately ostracized by her rich and snobby classmates. Unable to deal with dorm life and her deplorably toxic roommate (played to perfection by Synnove Karlsen), she moves out, gets a part-time job at a pub, and rents a small room from a crotchety old woman (Diana Rigg in her final role). While living there, Ellie starts experiencing visions of the past, revolving around a beautiful aspiring singer named Sandie (Anya Taylor-Joy). At first, these voyeuristic glimpses are thrilling, inspiring, and romantic, but they become increasingly horrific and intrusive as Sandie's life is consumed by the dark side of show business. Convinced that Sandie was murdered in the 60's, the lines between reality, fantasy, present, and past disappear, while Ellie's sanity starts to shatter. Will she be able to solve the mystery of Sandie's disappearance and stop the visions that torment her before her mind totally snaps? Or will the ghosts of the past end up killing her?

The film is a twisted love letter to the 1960's and Italian giallo cinema. The cinematography and music are superb, but the narrative is a confusing mess and the film struggles to maintain momentum and coherency. From an emotional, psychological, and storytelling perspective, I understand the need for the film's prolonged exposition, but it can be tedious and uncomfortable to watch. However, Ellie's trips to the past with Sandie are pure cinematic bliss. Basically, the film loses steam whenever it goes back to the real world, and the focus shifts to questioning whether Ellie's experiences are real or a product of mental illness. Typical of the genre, the story relies on misdirection and bait-and-switch tactics to keep you guessing throughout, but the resolution feels cheap and just points out the flaws in the setup.

While the film looks fantastic, it's the actors who bring all of the magic to life. Thomasin McKenzie gives a brilliant performance as Ellie, and her youthful energy, enthusiasm, and innocence are enchanting. She's utterly charming and totally relatable, and watching her evolve and fall apart under increasing pressure is riveting. Anya Taylor-Joy is mesmerizing as the confident, driven, and powerfully seductive Sandie, whose naïveté and lust for fame lead her to ruin. Matt Smith is spectacularly sinister, while Terence Stamp leaves you wondering whether he's evil or just creepy. Diana Rigg is barely recognizable and does a great job as a cranky old lady, although her long-winded monologues strain the plot's credibility. Even though the climax is a bit of a letdown, the film ends on a light and hopeful note, and gave me a lot to think about for the next several days. Cinema buffs and the art crowd will probably enjoy the film more than mainstream horror fans.