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Last Night in Soho

"You know where to find me..."

I missed out on the new Halloween and the new James Bond, but I made the effort to see Last Night in Soho. Because I know Edgar Wright movies and I knew this was one that would be worth seeing on the big screen. I was not wrong.

Wright is a modern filmmaking master in many ways. I like the point he seems to be at now in his career with this movie and Baby Driver, where he’s established his bona fides and seems content with making any kind of movie he wants; albeit, with his own brand and style. They’re somewhat familiar stories, but not developed through basic formula. Instead they vibrate with as much cinematic richness as his Cornetto Trilogy or Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, while being significantly more restrained and refined than those films.

I find it interesting that a lot of Wright’s work as a filmmaker is inspired by music. Much like the main character of the film, Wright’s own longtime interest in ’60s music and the London culture of that time in general was apparently the impetus for the film. Even the movie title is the name of a 1960s British rock song, which does play at the end of the film.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Last Night in Soho is centered around Ellie (Thomasin McKenzie), a country girl who ventures to London to attend a prestigious school in the hopes of fulfilling her dream of being a fashion designer. But she’s also there to immerse herself in the city and its rich history, specifically the ’60s.

As with many protagonists in Edgar Wright movies, Ellie is not as ordinary as she might seem. Early on her kindly grandmother worries about her heading off to the big city, because she knows Ellie can just see and feel things so strongly sometimes. At first you think she’s speaking emotionally, but it’s not long before you realize that Ellie is… different. It’s never explained how she is different — she might be psychic or spiritually in-tuned — but the fact that she is is key to the plot.

When she moves into a rustic old apartment building attended by an austere and sardonic landlady played by Diana Rigg, she goes to sleep and wakes up to the night life of 1960s London. While there, she becomes a literal reflection of Sandie (Anya Taylor Joy), another passionate young girl who came to London with big dreams and boarded in the same room over half a century earlier.

And things get progressively weirder from there.


There’s a lot of interesting stuff going on in the shadow relationship between the soft and demure Ellie and the bold and exciting Sandie. Initially, the film appears to be a purely romantic portrayal of Ellie’s self-discovery as she increasingly identifies with this girl of the past, who appears to be living the sort of life Ellie’s only ever imagined.

But Ellie soon realizes that Sandie’s story is not the inspirational dream life she thought, and she begins to question her own sanity as Sandie and more ghosts from the past begin to bleed over into her waking hours.

There’s so much to say about this movie, but I’m gonna try to avoid spoilers.

For one thing, it’s stunning on a technical and aesthetic level. The cinematography, the thrilling use of lighting and color, and the incredible sound design weave together to create an absolutely vivid experience. It generates a very dreamlike, and at times nightmarish, atmosphere.

In terms of writing and plot, this movie is a bit more original than Baby Driver. That said, like Baby Driver (and Wright’s other movies), it’s hard to use the word “original” too strongly when the influence of so many other movies can be seen throughout. The film starts out kind of like The Devil Wears Prada meets Midnight in Paris before shifting gears into horror, bringing forth shades of Suspiria, Perfect Blue, Black Swan, Jacob’s Ladder, some parts toward the end even reminded me of Hellraiser.

And there’s all these themes of self-actualization, dreams versus reality, sexuality and sexism, romanticization of the past, etc. It makes it a little harder to pin a genre onto it. It’s certainly a thriller, but is it psychological or supernatural? There’s elements of drama, horror, fantasy, tragedy and black comedy. Which adds to my feeling that this is a unique movie, as much its own thing as it is a homage to older works of art.

I think it might be one of Wright’s best films so far, and I think that’s saying something. I wanted to watch it again as soon as it ended, if that tells you anything.


Miscellaneous:

* I’ve only seen a few movies where London itself was treated as a character, and this is one of them. They did a wonderful job of making you feel the locations.

* Pretty much all of the acting in the movie is solid. Thomasin McKenize and Anya Taylor Joy both own the screen with two very dynamic performances. And special mention goes to the late Diana Rigg. I was glad she got to have a good character for her final role.

* This film features one of the most impressive movie dance sequences I’ve seen in awhile.

* Dynamite soundtrack. Several of the ‘60s era songs in the film are performed by Anya Taylor Joy, including two tonally distinct versions of Petula Clark’s “Downtown.” And it’s very stimulating when the title track kicks in at the end.

Quotes:

Ellie: Has anyone ever died in my room?
Ms. Collins: This is London. Someone has died in every room in every building and on every street corner in the city.

Ellie: I'm not allowed to have men in my apartment.
John (understanding): Oh, yeah?
Ellie: So you'll have to be very quiet.
John (excited): Oh, yeah?

Ellie: Do you believe in ghosts?

I highly recommend Last Night in Soho. I saw this in an empty theater, so I must also recommend a good sound system or headphones to get the most out of the movie. Just as a fan of movies in general, it was a lot of fun.

Five out of five neon-soaked bedrooms.

2 comments:

  1. I had no intention of seeing this film until I came to these lines in your review:

    The film starts out kind of like The Devil Wears Prada meets Midnight in Paris before shifting gears into horror, bringing forth shades of Suspiria, Perfect Blue, Black Swan, Jacob’s Ladder, some parts toward the end even reminded me of Hellraiser.

    Sold!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Then I have succeeded at my job.

    I guess Don't Look Now was a major influence on the movie too, but I have yet to see that one. I just listed the things it reminded me of as I was watching it.

    Thanks for your comment, Josie.

    ReplyDelete

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