Writer-director Edgar Wright continues to expand out into venturous new genres for him with Last Night in Soho, a psychological horror film about the giddy nostalgia and horrible realities of London’s culture of the ’60s. Although it’s a sometimes splendidly crafted piece of work that revels in its own nerdiness, it’s a film riddled with story and character contrivances consistently throughout, as well as a general unsureness as to what it wants to be.
Ellie (Thomasin McKenzie) is excited to travel to London for her fashion design studies. She’s hauled up in dorms with her classmates, but she finds herself ostracised by the party-happy environment and the bitchy peers she has (who sound like Heathers kind of ladies, but without the sardonic satire). So she books herself a room under the strict lodger Ms Collins (Diana Rigg), somehow able to pay London rent prices with a part-time bar job.
Whilst asleep in her room, she has vivid dreams that she’s in the swinging ‘60s, where she observes Sandie (Anya Taylor-Joy), an aspiring singer-dancer. Ellie is ecstatic by this dream that transports her to her favourite time period, and she even dyes her hair to emulate the sexy and confident Sandie. But as she dreams more and more, she goes further into how nightmarish Sandie’s predicament is, as she’s put into compromising positions by her “manager” Jack (Matt Smith).
There’s some occasional moments of exciting directorial flourish that have either a truly ‘60s-inspired look or Giallo-inspired gusto, though they sometimes feel not only non-applicable to the film, but actually repelled by the story. There’s the fancy work done with the women switching appearances in mirrors and reflections, suggesting a duality to them, but there’s never an actual sense of Ellie’s character being inspired by Sandie, or vice versa. These two characters seem to be somewhat polar opposites in their demeanour, as well as their profession, though this visual suggestion never materialises, and Ellie doing fashion work has no bearing on the hallucinatory segments she goes through.
There’s also a bit of grisly murder at one point, gloriously shot and edited. But it’s a scene that doesn’t just misdirect the audience, it simply lies to them, so that it can contrive to make the twist ending work. Although the movie does have some redemptive qualities to it as it performs multiple other flips in the story in its final third, it’s just too little too late.
On top of a number of supporting characters with atrociously written and badly directed performances, not to mention a character whose presence is just to create another flip in the story, Last Night in Soho is an awkward film – technically impressive at times, but this kind of story just seems too derivative and its comments on pop-culture nostalgia are so naff in comparison to Wright’s peers like Quentin Tarantino and Drew Goddard. Like the Sandie character, it tries too hard to entertain, which may work, though the presence of desperation and confusion can be glimpsed within.