Last Night in Soho is about aspiring fashion designer, Ellie, who has always dreamed of living in London. She has an affinity for the swinging '60s and when she rents an apartment in London's Soho neighborhood to be near her arts university, she begins being transported back in time to the '60s where she inhabits a woman, Sandy, with dreams as big as hers. Though, not all is as it seems and as Ellie suddenly feels as if she's being haunted by the nightmares she encounters in her dreams while in her waking life. Soon she has to figure out the culprit of the shocking murder that occurred in her room. The film stars Thomasin McKenzie, Anya-Taylor Joy, Matt Smith, Rita Tushingham, Michael Ajao, Synnøve Karlson, Terence Stamp, and Diana Rigg. The film is directed by Edgar Wright and written by Wright and Krysty Wilson-Cairns.
There are directors who branch out from their beginnings and go on to develop their talents beyond any genre that made them famous. The interesting thing about Edgar Wright is he became famous by working within the tropes, clichés, and trappings of genre, parodying and making something new and great at the same time. Though, because I've seen all of those and films and loved them, I kept waiting for a punchline that never comes in Last Night in Soho.
Now, before getting up in arms, yes, Wright's Baby Driver is also a departure from his comedy roots. I forgive a lot of story beats in Baby Driver mainly because it's cool. It's cool and it doesn't attempt to also be a broader examination of a social issue. That is what Last Night in Soho is, it's a film that wants to be cool while also taking a stance and it fails.
It's likely I feel this way because Edgar Wright is the wrong director for the nuance required to tell this story. He adds in the subtlety of a young woman who faces a world of men that want nothing of her except her body, but he lacks the intrinsic eye. All of his gaze is distant, focusing on the lurid, on the male idea that someone can be saved. He doesn't delve more deeply into the characters than their gumption to achieve their ambitions. These women are images, tools, but not people.
This is where we fall into tricky territory as I know the breadth of the story, the twists, turns, and surprises and you may not. What I will say is the climax is muddled by the story established before. It's not clear what the resolution is truly saying. It's reductive to say the film is all style and no substance. What I will say is that the film's incessant, awe inducing, confusing, and minutely detailed style overpowers every story beat the film attempts to present. It completely detracts from the audience taking away something more meaningful than the base layer of, "Oh, Ellie's got a touch of the spiritual medium and so she can freely move between the worlds to experience the spookiness in both."
Though, in defense of the style, Last Night in Soho, like all of Edgar Wright's films is really cool looking. Cinematographer Chung-hoon Chung made all of the scenes that swapped between Ellie and Sandy smooth as well as took us from vibrant to drab and back again. His work is reminiscent of the masters of the old musicals in how he follows movement. Speaking of movement, choreographer Jennifer White not only pulled off some incredible dance numbers including the stellar opening scene, but made the scenes with Ellie on one side of a mirror and Sandy on the other side effortless, and so incredibly dynamic. Major props also go to editor Paul Machliss who makes those scenes and all of the transitions, hard cuts, and close ups just so seamless and smooth.
There's a lot of things to distract from the disappointing story. The acting is top notch, the mystery will keep you guessing, because it doesn't always make sense, and the technical feats are impressive, but Last Night in Soho is still lacking. It lacks the direction of a filmmaker who wants to focus on the horror in the lives of women. Instead Last Night in Soho focuses on the thrill of the precise technical achievements, which makes for a ho-hum sort of horror without a coherent emotional core. If you see this one, go in knowing that the message is muddled and focus instead on the bright lights and fabulous movements.