At the Movies with Alan Gekko: Last Night in Soho “2021”

MPAA Rating: R/Genre: Psychological Horror/Stars: Thomasin McKenzie, Anya Taylor-Joy, Matt Smith, Terence Stamp, Michael Ajao, Diana Rigg, Rita Tushingham, Jessie Mei Li, Synnøve Karlsen, Margaret Nolan, Lisa McGrillis, James Phelps, Oliver Phelps/ Runtime: 116 minutes

I think it is really safe to say that film helmer Edgar Wright is a director that I have always had a distinct fondness for to say nothing of being excited every time he has a new movie coming out. This is not just because every slice of cinematic pie he gifts the world is of a high degree in terms of quality and skill, but it’s also because the man has a wonderful devotion to regaling us with a new type of narrative with every film and also is always tinkering with new styles to his helmsmanship. As a result, each film has a collection of surprises to say nothing of distinct magic all its own. Yet whilst this grocery list of items are all ones that fans of Wright have been incredibly aware of since at least Shaun of the Dead back in 2004, there was even more reason to be intrigued about what we would get from Wright after his 2017 masterpiece Baby Driver proved to be both critically and commercially successful. Well I can now safely say that the answer to this question was the new release Last Night in Soho, a slice of cinematic pie that, despite being more flawed than some of Wright’s other works, seems to be a highly passionate, and phenomenally well performed and sculpted throwback to such films as Don’t Look Now from 1973 and ones made by Italian horror maestro Dario Argento in the 60s and 70s that by the end of it manages to be one of the more intriguing films that Wright has managed to pen/helm to this point in time.

The plot is as follows: Last Night in Soho gets underway as we see that our heroine, a young woman by the name of Eloise “Ellie” Turner receives some news that has the immense potential to change her life forever. That being that she has been accepted to attend a fairly prestigious fashion institute in the heart of jolly ol’ London. The reason this is so big we soon learn is because Ellie has long dreamed about getting into the fashion business and this school taking her is a step in the right direction…even if her loving and caring grandma has some reservations about Ellie moving to London due to being both fairly sensitive to say nothing of a past that has a few incidents with disorders of a psychological nature contained within. Yet despite her grandmother’s reservations, we soon see Ellie make the journey only to have her own excitement about this new adventure run into a slight stumbling block. A stumbling block which takes the form of not really meshing well with her new roommate Jocasta who is not exactly the nicest girl on the block so to speak. Finding her introvertedness soon coming into conflict with how Jocasta handles her day to day life to say nothing of how she treats people, we see our heroine make the choice to relocate off-campus to reside. It is in that respect that she scores a triumph when she finds a room up for rent in the district that is part of the title and that is owned by a nice yet strict older woman by the name of Ms. Collins. Yet it is her first night in her new digs however that we see things start to take a fairly odd turn when Eloise starts having dreams at night where she finds herself going back to Soho in the 1960s and experiences this vibrant era through the perspective of another young woman by the name of Sandie who dreams to become a famous singer. Of course, due to possessing an incredible fondness for this era of time due to it being passed on to her by her recently-passed on mother, it should come as no surprise to learn that Eloise finds herself literally riveted by this woman in her dreams and even takes inspiration from the dreams to phenomenal effect in her classes and day to day life. Yet when the dreams with Sandy suddenly go down a sinister road, we see that what started out as a dream come true is about to turn into a waking nightmare and lead our heroine down a road that will shake her to her core and reveal secrets that have been buried for a long long time, but are now ready to reveal themselves to the world….

Now even though Edgar Wright has shown a fairly obvious love and respect for such genres of film as heist films, comedy films, action films, buddy-cop films, and sci-fi, I think you can also argue that a lot of these films also have at the very least a splash of horror about them as well. It should come as no surprise therefore to learn that his immense love and respect for this genre comes through in waves in this distinct slice of cinematic pie. Indeed Wright manages to mesh together elements from all over the realm of horror from the Donald Sutherland 1973 starrer Don’t Look Now to movies made by Dario Argento and even a little bit of horror maestro Stephen King for good measure and as a result is able to give you, the viewer, a group of truly well-done visual frights that really toy with the emotions you feel for this distinct cast of characters. Besides that however, this is one film that is not only packed with a fair amount of surprises and is just as much a mystery if not slightly more so than a horror film and is successful in that respect at giving you, the viewer just enough info to keep your curiosity up without showing your proverbial hand as it were. Of course you should lower your expectations a wee amount so you’re not expecting something that is downright mind blowing, but when the movie does pull the rug out from under you, I can promise you that it is still fairly satisfying.

Now doing a wonderful job of supporting the narrative that is being regaled to us is the technical skill that is deployed in order to bring this slice of cinematic pie so vividly to life. Perhaps the crowning achievement in that regard is a moment in the film where Sandie makes her way through a nightclub in a lengthy and flowing shot and Eloise shows up as either Sandie’s reflection or every so often taking her place in what is going on in the scene at that time. Indeed it’s such a remarkable achievement that you won’t be surprised if you find yourself leaving the film mentally briefly due to contemplating just how in the world they managed to pull it off. I mean no it’s not exactly on the level of what we saw in 2017’s Baby Driver since the scope of what Wright was trying to pull off, but this doesn’t make this film any less of a cinematic achievement. Also, much in the same vein as the rest of Wright’s filmography, I can say that it wouldn’t surprise me if this film was one that the more times you watch it the more impressive it turns out to be since knowing where the film is going might show you things you may have missed the first time you watched it.

Finally, besides all the other previously mentioned components that distinguish it from the rest of Wright’s filmography, it should also be noted that this movie is the very first one that has a female in the lead role. Yet this is by no means an issue since the narrative Wright is working with is only one that I feel could properly be told from the female point of view. To that end, we are blessed with a pair of phenomenal lead performances from both Thomasin McKenzie and Anya Taylor-Joy (even if McKenzie it could be argued is more or less the lead). Indeed it is fairly astonishing to see these two gifted performers operate in near-spot on synchronicity in their portrayals of spot-on contradictory characterizations and both do an astonishing job with their separate arcs. Indeed in the part of Sandie, Joy once again shows that she really is one of the finest talents of her generation and is most assuredly the best actress for the role since not only is she able to give us the confidence and assertiveness the part requires, but Joy also manages to even handle the tougher and darker aspects of the character wonderfully. For the role of Ellie, I can honestly say that McKenzie does a wonderful job at bringing a needed sensitivity and heart to say nothing of blossoming confidence to a character that easily could have been a tragically one note individual. It’s also worth noting that Wright clearly did his homework on the 60s era in London as he managed to get several stars from that time period including the always welcome Terrence Stamp, Margaret Nolan, and Diana Rigg in several key co-starring roles and indeed they all do wonderful work in their respective roles especially Rigg who in her final film role is equal parts riveting and heartbreaking.

All in all even though by and large it is usually kind of a letdown when that time honored holiday known as Halloween falls on a Sunday since for kids it means school the next day and therefore no time to relax following a late night candy binge and for adults it means…..well pretty much the same thing save for the replacement of candy for a certain beverage and school for either work or college classes. Yet despite that negative hanging over head there is a positive to be found. That being that it works in your favor to go check out Last Night in Soho since doing so on Halloween might actually elevate your respect for what this slice of cinematic pie is trying to conjure up for you, the viewer. No it’s not the best work that we have ever seen from iconic film helmer Edgar Wright, but this is still a fairly well-performed especially from the likes of Anya Taylor-Joy, Thomasin McKenzie, and Matt Smith as well as an extremely well-shot and designed film that is definitely worth checking out anytime the lights are off, the bowl of popcorn is full, and you’re in desperate need of something that is both creepy yet entertaining in equal measure. On a scale of 1-5 I give Last Night in Soho “2021” a solid 3.5 out of 5.