(Written by Allison Brown)
Edgar Wright has developed a singular masterpiece with new horror-thriller, Last Night in Soho. I went in expecting a psychological mindfuck, but there is so much more to this fantastic film! There is mystery, strong undertones of feminism, an iconic 60s score, stunning cinematography, a surplus of metaphorical devices (particularly with mirrors) and adeptly layered performances from Thomasin McKenzie and Anya Taylor-Joy. I am genuinely speechless, and I wish I had the opportunity for an immediate second viewing to pinpoint the foreshadowing to the big reveal. Focus Features has hit the goldmine with this one; thematically, it fits perfectly in line with last year’s #metoo stunner, Promising Young Woman.
The film opens on Eloise Turner (Thomasin McKenzie), or should we say Ellie, dancing to retro sixties jams in a whimsical gown constructed from newspaper. Initially, it appears her arc will take place in this era, but it becomes quickly clear that she only wishes she was living in the 1960s. Her bedroom is filled with odes to anachronistic pop culture, like Audrey Hepburn, as well as a vintage record player. There are glimmers of an older woman in Eloise’s reflection in a full-length mirror. We cut to a framed photograph of this woman smiling with an elderly woman, assumably Eloise’s late mother and grandmother. Her grandmother, Peggy (Rita Tushingham), walks in the room with a letter from London College of Fashion, and the audience discovers that Eloise will be the school’s newest student! The Turners are of modest financial means, living in Cornwall in the countryside, but each generation of women have made the best of their circumstances through their keen understanding of fashion savvy and design skill. Peggy worries about Eloise heading off to London, as her mother did not fare well in her time there. Evidently, she took her own life due to mental instability when Eloise was only seven years old; the film analyzes how deeply this has affected Eloise as the narrative progresses. Peggy warns Eloise to be wary of the bad men that seem to be omnipresent in London. This becomes an understatement in itself. Later in the movie, a female character is called a slut, a cunt, and a whore in one mere scene!
For a film coming from a male director, Last Night in Soho dips its toes into the deep end in portraying depraved men ripe to commit sexual assault. From Eloise’s first interaction with a taxi driver in London, she is immediately put at risk and taken out of any comfort zone she envisioned. The driver tells her, “you could be a model, you got the legs for it.” As a woman, we have all been there. Many times, I have ignored unwelcome flirtation in Ubers, but I have done my best to disregard their advances. This particular driver makes it impossible; he goes even further to joke, “you might have found your first stalker!” Eloise implores the driver to pull over and decides to walk the rest of the way. If this sounds infuriating to watch, it only gets more maddening in this regard from here.
Eloise can’t win with her roommate situation either. Although overly hospitable at first, Jocasta (Synnove Karlsen), a cruel social butterfly in designer clothes, would fit well among the ranks of Regina George from Mean Girls. To Eloise’s face, Jocasta claims to love that she is wearing her own designs; she nicknames Eloise “brass balls elite.” Behind her back, she makes fun of Eloise to friends specifically for this fashion choice, notes her lower economic status, and describes her as mentally unstable. This interaction reminded me of the scene in Mean Girls where Regina claims to love a student’s vintage skirt, then as soon as she leaves, describes it as “the ugliest effing skirt I’ve ever seen.” Eventually, something has got to give, and Eloise decides to move out and find a new place of her own to live. Eloise finds an ad for a room upstairs in a house owned by a bitter old woman, Ms. Collins (Diana Rigg). There is nothing habitable about this situation, but Eloise is desperate for anything to escape there are no men allowed and nothing has been updated or modernized in many years; there is even an old rotary phone! Collins asks for two months’ rent and two months deposit, as previous tenants have made a habit of abruptly leaving in the middle of the night. She insinuates that earlier women living in the apartment have come from sketchy backgrounds. Desperate for an escape, Eloise accepts the offer on the spot and moves in.
As she begins to fall asleep on her first night, she pulls over the covers, and the stunning blanket visuals seem to go on endlessly. Eloise finds herself transported to a dark alley, which reveals a marquee of an old film. She comes to the realization she has entered a different time, although perhaps only in a dream. Or is it? This is where the true fun of Wright’s tale begins! Pay close attention to the details in characterization (or lack thereof) as you meet each new character, shrouded in mystery. A well-known heartthrob goes uncredited, yet his appearance is vital to the plot. The reliability of every character’s actions and perspective is called into question at one point or another. The settings and locations are equally important. Wright’s careful attentiveness in slowly presenting the details is what makes each and every reveal so earth-shattering.
Fans of Anya Taylor-Joy, like myself, will not be disappointed. To my surprise, Thomasin is definitely more of a lead than Anya. However, at the very least, she is the second most important character. Anya, with her stunning old-fashioned doll-like beauty, was built to play Sandie, and she truly delivers all the nuances necessary for her role. She is wonderful in her portrayal of a singer hopeful for fame who ends up in the most compromising of circumstances. I was astounded to see her vocal chops; I had no idea that Anya is able to sing as well as she can act. I hope to see her take on Broadway one day!
Last Night in Soho is surely a must see for 2021. Every element of its execution is nearly flawless. The intentional ambiguity of its marketing campaign set a high bar, and creates excitement and anticipation at every turn. I was genuinely naïve as to what was in store with Edgar’s work of art, which is a rarity for a film these days. Once the true message of the story unfurled, I was left with shock and awe. I was very disappointed to see the movie unavailable for virtual coverage back at TIFF, but this masterful viewing was worth the wait.
Last Night in Soho transports the audience to a new time and space when it comes to theatres tonight.