Daniel examines Edgar Wright’s new thriller, a notable departure tonally and visually from his previous work.
For all of its visual flair and dazzling neon imagery, striking Giallo-esque stylings and brazen time-bending shenanigans, Edgar Wright’s latest directorial effort, Last Night in Soho, is a film which finds itself weighed down by a surprising adherence to convention and a lack of original storytelling ideas.
We are introduced to Thomasin McKenzie’s Eloise, a nostalgia worshipping, 60s obsessed student as she navigates her first year at London College of Fashion only to end up finding a supernatural window into the past which allows her to explore the decade that she so passionately adores. Wright intertwines this coming-of-age narrative with the fantastical in a story infused with his usual charming idiosyncrasies. Even so, it’s apparent early on that the director has made a concerted effort to tone down his style, resulting in an approach which feels somewhat familiar but ultimately a distinctive outlier within a well defined repertoire.
Over the course of the film, Eloise is subject to further and further torment as moments from the past increasingly find their way into the present day, driving her to a point of hysteria as she struggles to reconcile both time periods. As rose tinted glasses are traded in for glassy eyed terror, she discovers the benefits of hindsight and that maybe everything wasn’t quite so pleasant as her pop-culture affliction would have led her to believe. Her ghostly memories of hopeful performer Sandie anchor her sense of empathy and instil a determined persistence to avenge the wrongdoings of those in the past for abandoning and destroying her. The film’s deft presentation ensures that its antics remain fun and Thomasin McKenzie and Anya Taylor-Joy are a delight to watch, but beyond this superficial veneer, the film betrays its own sense of purpose and central parable.
"The film’s deft presentation ensures that its antics remain fun and Thomasin McKenzie and Anya Taylor-Joy are a delight to watch, but beyond this superficial veneer, the film betrays its own sense of purpose..."
Most glaring though is the confused sense of messaging around nostalgia. The film holds a keen admiration for the past, evidenced by its plentiful 70s callbacks through decor and visual presentation, and yet, simultaneously attempts to incorporate a narrative that warns against the complacency of longing for the past when devoid of context. In spite of its flaws though, Wright’s screenplay importantly establishes an emotional tether through its exploration of sexual trauma and shared identity. Through her phantom visions, Eloise is able to form a connection to Sandie through the universality of their experiences as women living in a world run into the ground and dominated by men. In this sense, Wright cleverly highlights the very much intact and still thriving patriarchy and the ubiquity of its effect on the lives of women and minorities. Evidently, the ideas the film presents and tries to articulate certainly possess merit, but the clumsy structuring with which they’ve been assembled unfortunately dulls the urgency and importance of their content.
Last Night in Soho is a film with very admirable intentions but ultimately lacks the subtlety and intelligence to tackle its themes with anything more than apprehensive uncertainty. Many of these issues are further marred by loosely unravelling plot threads that lose their mark by the film’s final act and predictable twists which should be revelatory, but instead feel telegraphed and obvious. Many of Wright’s skills as a director are still on full display here, but between this and Baby Driver it feels like his skills as a writer are beginning to be exposed for their shortcomings. It’s a film with the right intentions but it ultimately falls too short for its subject matter to have the impact it deserves and necessitates.
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