A commercial horror flick rather than an attempt to address deeper issues, Edgar Wright’s Last Night in Soho is an enjoyable, immersive experience with bits of nostalgia, excellent performances and outstanding technical credits that elevate it beyond standard horror fare.
Any attempts to over-analyze the themes and messages in Soho may turn out to be futile – the film can and should be enjoyed for what it is: a tale of ambition, alter-ego and overcoming one’s demons. Everything is packaged in accessible, straightforward storytelling that surely will broadly appeal to mainstream audiences while leaving arthouse fans yearning for something a little more. Not everyone will be satisfied but they surely will be entertained.
The story focuses on a 1960s-obsessed young woman who dreams of becoming a fashion designer. Making her big transition from the English countryside to study fashion at a prestigious London academy, Eloise (Thomasine Mckenzie) discovers a life she never expected. Beyond the initial fascination by London’s pace and lifestyle, she is never able to shake off the feeling she’s an outsider.
Bullied by her classmates, Eloise decides to take a room in a nearby building in Soho. Soon after, she meets a charismatic girl (Sandy, played by Anya Taylor-Joy) who seems to be a more confident, outgoing version of the shy, introverted Eloise. The connection between the two is mysterious and enigmatic; and what starts as an unlikely encounter soon turns out to be something much deeper than mere coincidence.
What makes the film worthy of attention, beyond the high-profile name of its director, is its sheer commitment to deliver a memorable experience: one that mixes elements of 1960s nostalgia with non-stop thrills. The narrative device here also works: an alter-ego game that starts with a dream, and transitions into fascination and soon spirals into something much darker.
Evoking a strong nostalgic touch, the film’s costume design is particularly worthy of note. Capturing both classic and contemporary styles and tastes, it manages to make the costumes be an active participant in the story, communicating Eloise’s withdrawal and Sandy’s fierce ambition. The production design also carries the difficult task of delivering both old and modern-looking spaces to capture the unique blend of eras. Sound design and editing are also particularly effective, especially in a film that relies on constant shifts in perceived time and memories while also never forgetting this is, first and foremost, an accessible horror experience that should delight fans of the genre.
In a supporting role, Anya Taylor-Joy completely dazzles as the elusive Sandy, a girl who knows no boundaries. Taylor-Joy is completely committed to the role and captures both physical and psychological aspects of a character who keeps us guessing, intrigued and enthralled. A perfect casting by Wright, Taylor-Joy gives the film the energy it needs to sustain audience’s interest and intrigue.
Bottom line: A pleasant experience even if not wholly original, Last Night in Soho delivers the expected thrills while evoking 1960s nostalgia thanks to impeccable costume and production design. Best enjoyed for what it is rather than trying to reaching for deeper meaning, this is a feast-for-eyes, edge-of-your-seat experience that should keep you mostly satisfied.
This review is from the Toronto International Film Festival. Focus Features will release Last Night in Soho on October 29, 2021.
Photo courtesy of TIFF