Edgar Wright’s much-anticipated new release, Last Night in Soho, is a visual extravaganza of a time-warping thriller on trauma, sexual assault, and righting the wrongs of our past. We follow aspiring fashion designer Eloise (Thomasin McKenzie) as, upon moving to London, she begins to have vivid visions of Soho in the 1960s. Eloise’s visions center around the glamorous Sandy (Anya Taylor-Joy) as she tries to make it as an entertainer in the famed neighbourhood. However, the enthralling visions become disturbing as the darker side of the swinging-sixties is revealed, and Eloise works in the present, to solve a problem of the past.
Last Night in Soho is set up to be entertaining and intriguing with its sharp editing, impeccable 60’s soundtrack, and stunning costume design. Unfortunately, the story isn’t strong enough to hold all these elements together. As a fan of Wright’s previous works, my expectations for this mysterious and stylish thriller with an impeccable cast were high, only to find myself unengaged and uninterested an hour into the film. The time jumps are confusing, the supposed plot twists don’t make much sense or have any consequences, and the explanation for the story at the end of the film is unsatisfying and mediocre. The mishaps in the plot can also be accounted for by Wright’s unsuccessful mish-mash of genres. While the movie is clearly supposed to be a thriller or horror, the tone is sometimes strangely upbeat and perky, causing CGI ghosts and cheap jump scares to feel out of place and leaving the viewer confused about what direction the film is going in.
The plot was also, in some part, unengaging due to the use of overdone storylines in the case of both protagonists. The utilisation of schizophrenia for Eloise’s visions feels like lazy writing and Sandy’s story arc as the showgirl pushed into sex work is tired and one-dimensional. Both of these harmful stereotypes seem to undermine Wright’s feminist agenda that, though well-intentioned, just doesn’t hit the mark in a post-Me Too era. Although the imagery used to portray sexual assault and violence towards women achieved its goal of making the viewer uncomfortable, the content was far too graphic and could have been achieved in a more tasteful manner. After all, it seems hypocritical to condemn this type of violence while also utilizing it so shamelessly for shock value. Last Night in Soho struck me as a depiction of what men think women are afraid of when it comes to sexual assault. The engagement with aspects of sexual assault that should have been in-depth were kept at surface level, while the less interesting elements were emphasised for jump scares and visual display.
For all its shortcomings, Wright’s signature editing is, as always, on-point, and his experimentation with psychedelic, dream-like sequences is captivating and enticing. For cinema lovers, Wrights’ odes to Alfred Hitchcock and other 60’s classics are enjoyable and appreciated. Performances from Thomasin McKenzie, Anya Taylor-Joy, and Matt Smith are all standouts but unfortunately cannot carry the film. Despite its flawed portrayal of sexual assault and trauma, I appreciate the notion of not glamorising the past, especially for marginalized groups that would have experienced iconic decades of the past differently than our retrospectively romanticised ideas. Last Night in Soho is a dazzling spectacle that, upon further inspection, lacks heart and a nuanced understanding of its subject matter. Although the film may have met standards on a cinematic level, the socially and politically informed audience of today won’t be impressed.
Image: Gage Skidmore via Wikimedia Commons