Last Night in Soho: New horror ends in uncertain, muddy territory

Review: Edgar Wright’s time-travel diversion explores the seedier side of the 1960s

Anya Taylor-Joy plays Sandie, an aspiring club singer, in Edgar Wright's Last Night in Soho

Film Title: Last Night in Soho

Director: Edgar Wright

Starring: Thomasin McKenzie, Anya Taylor-Joy, Matt Smith, Terence Stamp, Diana Rigg, Rita Tushingham, Pauline McLynn, Synnøve Karlsen

Genre: Horror

Running Time: 117 min

Fri, Oct 29, 2021, 05:00

   

It takes a while for Edgar Wright’s Last Night in Soho – a film that bumps to Earth as often as it takes flight – to confirm how it will deviate from the director’s usual habits. It certainly sounds like an Edgar Wright film. Thomasin McKenzie plays a young woman from contemporary Cornwall who, shortly after arriving in London to study fashion, gets magically transported to Soho of the 1960s. A murderer is on the streets. Perhaps he is still hanging about the 21st-century pub run by Pauline McLynn (you will know it’s her the moment you hear the voice off screen). That feels like something the director of Hot Fuzz and The World’s End might get up to.

Wright has, however, ditched his crazy wipes and furious cuts for a more sedate style of film-making. You won’t laugh much because, though some critics have already described it as such, it isn’t really a comedy (nor was his Baby Driver, to be fair). A glimpse of a marquee advertising Dr Terror’s House of Horrors hints we are going for something akin to the jaunty, shocker territory of that mid-60s anthology romp. Fair enough. The allusions elsewhere to Roman Polanksi’s Repulsion warn of a grasp beyond the film-maker’s reach.

Thomasin McKenzie as Ellie

It hardly matters that the central conceit is only vaguely sketched. McKenzie’s Ellie, who worships 1960s culture, is cast back partly within and partly beside the persona of Sandie (Anya Taylor-Joy), an aspiring club singer. That is to say, sometimes Ellie watches her and sometimes she seems to actually be her. In the 1960s, Sandie falls in with a local hoodlum (Matt Smith). In the 2020s, Ellie counters bullies and settles in with an intimidating landlady (Diana Rigg, given plenty to do in her last role). It matters a little more that the latter stages of the plot – punctuated by some uninteresting spectres – rattle madly to a borderline-arbitrary ending.

Anna Taylor-Joy and Matt Smith star in Edgar Wright’s Last Night in Soho
Anya Taylor-Joy and Matt Smith

The immersion in a largely imagined world remains diverting. Though she travelled from a different compass point, Ellie’s adventures point where Julie Christie’s character might have landed after Billy Liar if she had more of Billy’s uncertainty. Rita Tushingham and Terence Stamp are here to help Rigg flesh out the era’s old guard. Most impressively, the script from Wright and Krysty Wilson-Cairns does as much work deglamourising the era as it does celebrating it. The film is particularly strong on how women were degraded in the entertainment and sex industries.

Yet Last Night in Soho ends up in uncertain, muddy territory. There is both too much and too little going on. It passes the time busily, but leaves us lost in copious allusion and unfinished narrative. Maybe that is how it felt at the time.

Opens on October 29th