Wrapping oneself up in the warm blanket of nostalgia has always been an alluring proposition. Cult filmmaker Edgar Wright provides a corrective to those rose-colored cravings with Last Night in Soho, a creepy ghost story with a twist. Thomasin McKenzie stars as Eloise, a small-town U.K. girl with a supernatural gift for seeing things that others can’t. Pursuing her dream of becoming a fashion designer, Eloise leaves her grandmother’s home in Redruth to study at the London College of Fashion. But after making the discovery that big-city mean girls populate her dorm, she decides to rent a room in Soho from an elderly woman named Ms. Collins, played by the inimitable TV, film and stage actress, Diana Rigg.
Eloise tries to fit in at school, but her naiveté and social awkwardness get in the way. That she’s out of step with contemporary pop culture doesn’t help. Obsessed with ‘60s fashion and music, her fondest wish is to live in London during the Swinging Sixties. One night, after falling asleep, her wish comes true; Eloise wakes up in 1966 and finds herself mysteriously drawn to the Café de Paris, a swanky nightclub and reference to Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris, one of Wright’s favorite films and an obvious antecedent to Last Night in Soho.
Looking into a mirror within the café’s foyer, Eloise is startled to see a striking blonde named Sandie instead of herself. Eloise becomes instantly enchanted and, from the opposite side of the looking glass, begins to spy on Sandie – a charismatic young singer who’s hoping to become the next It Girl. Eloise is snapped back to the present by her alarm clock, but her time traveling adventures pick up where they left off on the following nights. It doesn’t take long for Sandie’s ghostly past to start influencing various aspects of Eloise’s life, including her fashion designs. The luster of 1966 Soho starts to fade after London’s bygone days turn progressively darker, and ghosts from the past begin to threaten Eloise’s sanity, and possibly her very existence.
It’s exciting to see a writer/director as talented as Edgar Wright continue to take chances and try new things. After enjoying success turning out such comedy classics as Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, Wright gave us one of the best graphic novel adaptations to date with Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. In 2017 he hit the Hollywood big time with his Oscar-nominated crime drama, Baby Driver. With Last Night in Soho, he backs off on the humor but continues to pay homage to the films – horror and non-horror alike – from which he draws inspiration, ranging from Polanski’s Repulsion and Argento’s Suspiria, to too many 007 films to even mention. It’s in this way he shares a kinship with Eloise; Last Night in Soho can be read as a subtle commentary on his own creative process, and how the past informs his art.
Subtextual interpretations notwithstanding, Last Night in Soho is simply a blast. Wright’s precisely staged choreography and camerawork deliver several awe-inspiring moments, such as when Eloise and Sandie seamlessly and repeatedly switch identities on the dance floor while in mid-step. And the whole cast is great, but Anya Taylor-Joy as Sandie is a standout; with her effortless poise, hypnotic eyes, and Cupid’s bow lips, she commands the screen like the great actresses of yesteryear, giving Last Night in Soho one of her most haunting performances.
For KSQD’s Film Gang, this is Paul Kanieski.