Spirit of the ’60s: Edgar Wright creates a fun if schizophrenic film with Last Night in Soho

There’s a lot going on in writer-director Edgar Wright’s crazed, inventive Last Night in Soho. It’s a modern take on the perils of too much nostalgia, a ghost story, a psychological thriller, a murder mystery, a Hitchcockian/Polanski homage and more.

Is it a bit much? Maybe, but it’s a lot of mostly good-to-great things with some just OK elements mixed in. It’s a movie that isn’t quite the sum of all of its parts, but plenty good enough if you are looking for something a little different and bizarre.

Eloise (Thomasin McKenzie) has longed to live in London and wishes she could’ve been there in the ’60. She loves the fashion, she loves the vibe and she loves the music, dancing in the hallways of her grandma’s (Rita Tushingham) home. She lives with grandma because her mom took her own life when she was 7 years old. 

Eloise gets her wish when she is accepted into a London fashion school. In moving to London, she brings an alarming ability to see ghosts (most notably her dead mother) and some other anxiety issues. 

The scene is a bit much for her at first, thanks to a lousy, bitchy roommate (Synnove Karlsen) and some creepy dudes eyeballing her. She moves off campus into a retro apartment owned by the bossy, elderly Ms. Collins. (Yes, that’s the late Diana Rigg in her last screen role.) Despite her old-school rules, Eloise prefers Ms. Collins and her dusty apartment to hanging with her age group.

Eloise starts having waking dreams where she seems to be living the life of aspiring songstress Sandie (Any Taylor-Joy) in the ’60s. Each successive dream leads to a new, chronological chapter in Sandie’s life, but the joy and optimism of the early dreams begin drifting into something far more sinister. 

Things progress from supernatural mystery to horror when the bloodletting begins. Eloise, having a hard time distinguishing the past from reality, starts having a meltdown synchronized with Sandie’s increasingly bad times. 

Wright manages some reasonably good twists and turns, although the slick visuals keep some of the wannabe scary moments from providing chills. They look cool, but they lack the sort of timing and editing that would make them genuinely scary. While the film aspires to be an entry in the horror genre, it falls more to the supernatural mystery side. In short, it isn’t very scary.

But it’s still a damn good watch, thanks mainly to McKenzie and Taylor-Joy delivering outstanding work, something that is becoming routine for both of them.
McKenzie (also good this year in Shyamalan’s Old) cycles through all of the emotions in a role that shows off her range more than anything she’s done before. Taylor-Joy (also a Shyamalan vet with Split and Glass) continues to show she’s one of the best of her generation, while also getting a chance to show off some impressive pipes with her take on “Downtown.”

Rigg officially finishes her career with a flourish as the nosy landlord in what turns out be a bit of perfect casting. Terrence Stamp, as a creepy character frequenting bars in Eloise’s present day, reminds why it’s always a good idea to put him in your movie. 

It’s a good bet the film will score some end-of-the-year accolades for art direction and makeup because the movie nails the ’60s. In fact, the movie looks so good in the ’60s, one of its flaws might be that it isn’t entirely staged in its magnificently recreated ’60s timeline. 

The third act goes a bit bonkers and feels a bit like a different movie. It’s a decent enough payoff for the mystery (although Eloise does some things in a library that should land her in jail). It all comes to a somewhat satisfying conclusion without being particularly mind blowing. 

Upcoming for Wright? Not much. He’s attached to a redo of Stephen King’s The Running Man, but who knows if that will ever come out. Last Night in Soho had a one-year delay due to, well, you know. Soho isn’t exactly lighting the box office on fire, so Wright could use a big project like a Stephen King movie to kick his career into high gear.   

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