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‘Last Night in Soho’ is stylish but underwhelming

Edgar Wright’s signature cinematic style in addition to a strong cast makes the film enjoyable but plot ultimately falters

<p>Ellie finds herself able to transport through her dreams into the 1960's in the form of Sandie, a dazzling singer at a nightclub seeking romance and stardom, played by Anya Taylor-Joy</p>

Ellie finds herself able to transport through her dreams into the 1960's in the form of Sandie, a dazzling singer at a nightclub seeking romance and stardom, played by Anya Taylor-Joy

The Virginia Film Festival held an evening screening Oct. 28 at the Paramount Theatre for “Last Night in Soho” — a psychological thriller directed by Edgar Wright starring Thomasin McKenzie and Anya Taylor-Joy. 

The film follows a young woman named Eloise, or fondly called “Ellie,” played by Thomasin McKenzie. Obsessed with the music and style of 1960s London, Ellie travels to the Soho district in the present day to pursue her dream as an aspiring fashion designer. Once there, she finds herself able to transport through her dreams into the 1960s in the form of Sandie, a dazzling singer at a nightclub seeking romance and stardom, played by Anya Taylor-Joy. While Ellie lives her once-idolized life through Sandie however, the line between the two characters blur and Ellie realizes that the Swinging Sixties is not as glamorous as it appears to be. Her life, both in past and in present, begins to fall apart with nightmarish consequences.

With the film revolving around the twin leads, it was imperative for casting of both those parts to be well thought-out as they not only have to play complex characters with their own lives, ambitions and personalities, but also ones that mirror each other. Both actresses — McKenzie and Taylor-Joy — understood the assignment and were brilliant in their roles with McKenzie as the wide-eyed, naive and empathetic protagonist, and Taylor-Joy as the ambitious and sultry blonde starlet. The two performances, as well as supporting roles played by the likes of Matt Smith, Terrence Stamp, Rita Tushingham and Diana Rigg, keep the film captivating.

For Wright, whose previous films include “Scott Pilgrim vs. The World,” “Baby Driver” and “Shaun of the Dead” amongst other action comedies, “Last Night in Soho” is a departure from his usual genres. For his first attempt at horror, Wright presents a remarkably tense first act with thrilling momentum — however, this is something that the film ultimately struggles to maintain. 

The plot falls back onto the same recycled methods throughout the film to scare audiences, and while initially effective, makes “Last Night in Soho” feel repetitive. The final act of the film also resorts to generic horror tropes and cheap writing, losing sight of its early themes. 

Wright, however, adds his usual stylistic touches on editing and visual effects, highlighting both the bustle of modern London and the sleazy and sordid underside of its neon-lit 1960s nightlife. His lucid portrayal of and tribute to what makes cities so alluring and dangerous — done through a hypnotic and glossy recreation of the colors, sounds and textures of the Swinging Sixties — is what the film succeeds in most.

His dissolving of lines between past and present, as well as reality and fantasy, are well executed and mind-bending through clever technical effects of Ellie and Sandie switching places, using both in-camera techniques and CGI to make the transitions seamless and almost magical. The design and physicality of the monsters that infiltrate Ellie’s world is also one of the more frightening parts of the film. 

From a filmmaker who makes needle-drops a trademark of his work, the film effectively uses a great soundtrack loaded with music from the '60s to link the more chaotic elements of film together, as well as give life and energy to a bygone era and an increasingly visceral story.

Wright’s cinematic style in and of itself makes “Last Night in Soho” an enjoyable visual experience. After walking out of the theater, however, the film gives little message to sit on. Characters intended to be villains are not fleshed out, and while Ellie and Sandie come to fear them, it is difficult for the audience to sympathize. Questions asked at the beginning of the film, such as the extent of truth or fiction in Ellie’s dreams, are left unanswered. The plot feels uneven — dwelling too long on parts audiences already understand and spending too little time explaining or expanding upon underdeveloped pieces of the story. Twists revealed in the final act also do not feel in line with previous thematic ideas, choosing to attempt establishing the film as one of the horror genre rather than one with a clear message. 

Its subject matter provided the film with potential for a feminist undertone as well as commentary on male sexual violence, the showbiz industry and the lure and risk of nostalgia. However the film goes no further than basic narrative and surface-level understanding — its muddled sense of purpose making both Ellie and Sandie’s respective stories feel incomplete and buried by the fashion of the film until style can no longer carry it. 

“Last Night in Soho” was released exclusively in theaters Oct. 29 and will provide audiences with a cinematic experience only Wright can deliver, but this comes alongside a storyline that ultimately falters. 

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