One of the best directors working today that is able to combine slick editing, stylistic flare and hilariously offbeat comedy is Edgar Wright. Perhaps best known for his Cornetto Trilogy, a collaboration between co-writer and star Simon Pegg that includes Hot Fuzz, Shawn of the Dead and The World’s End, Wright has recently been treading his way through different avenues of film. He adapted the Scott Pilgrim vs. The World graphic novel into a highly entertaining comedy, gave us the uniquely cool Baby Driver, and most recently introduced the world to one of the most revered, underrated pop-rock groups of all time in The Spark Brothers. The man has proven that no matter the scale, he is able to bring consistently entertaining and uniquely presented films to the masses. It truly is a shame we’ll never get to see what he has in store for Ant-Man.
With his proven track record, Wright has now decided to stroll down yet another new avenue for him in the form or a paranormal thriller. While he’s tapped into horror before with the aforementioned Shawn of the Dead, it seems his next goal was a film that takes itself a bit more seriously. Gone is the meta humor and sight gags he’s most known for, and what we have is a more provocative, thought-provoking delve into the sins of the past, the nature of showbiz and the paranoia surrounding the belief that your reality is slowly slipping away. This is Last Night in Soho, and if I’m being honest, it’s my least favorite of his major outings.
That’s not to say its a bad movie, it’s certainly acceptable. Yet, there’s something distinctly missing here. Most of the personality and style that makes Wright’s movies distinctly his own is all but lost here. Brief sparks of his classic ingenuity make it in, but if would have watched this without knowing who directed it, I may not have been able to guess it was him. I’m not saying you can’t change and evolve your style, but despite this being a fairly entertaining flick, it ultimately feels like a step back for the director.
Set in modern times in the Soho district of West London, and aspiring fashion designer, Eloise (Thomasin McKenzie), enrolls in a prestigious fashion school, but begins to crumble under the pressure, the two-faced classmates and the adjustment from country-life to city living. Looking to strike out on her own, Eloise finds a vacancy in a bedsit owned by the elderly Miss Collins (Diana Rigg). Everything seems normal enough until Eloise falls asleep, finding herself transported back to the 1960s in the body of another woman. Looking through the eyes of Sandie (Anya Taylor-Joy), a singer looking to make a name for herself, Eloise begins to experience the horrors of Sandie’s past, as her dreams begin to be slowly crushed by Sandie’s controlling lover/manager Jack (Matt Smith). As increasingly frightening occurrences persist even when she’s awake, Eloise becomes obsessed with discovering the truth behind what happened to Sandie.
One thing I can wholeheartedly applaud this film for is its persistent tension, never really letting up on poor Eloise once the spookiness starts to plague her. Sometimes thrillers have the wind knocked out of them by the middle and struggle to keep the tension constant and present, but the film’s pacing at least manages to stay consistent. This is due in part to a fantastic cast that manages to keep you gripped throughout the paranormal shenanigans. Thomasin MCKenzie continues to solidify the bright future she has for herself with a performance that tows the line of manic and determined. Anya Taylor-Joy doesn’t get nearly as much screen time as I’d hoped, but her short appearances no doubt capture the dread of having your dreams diminished by being manipulated into doing things you’d never hoped to do. The parallels between the two girls are never overly stated, leaving just enough for the viewer to discover on their own without being told what to look for. At least, most of the time.
As stated before, Edgar Wright‘s calling card is his masterful control over the film’s style and aesthetic, creating visually engaging scenes that don’t always set out to dazzle. Transitions are a huge part of his repertoire, with Wright going above and beyond to have the beats of the film flow in a clever way while it seems to be a second thought to other directors. Its apparent that Wright‘s stylization is bit reigned in this time around, though there are moments that manage to remind you just who is behind the wheel. Once the film begins to embrace its dreamy foray into the past, the visuals and movements all begin to crank up a notch. Masterful camerawork mixed with clever blocking and scene structure give the film some of its most entertaining moments, but when we flip back to the real world, the film loses much of its electricity. This could have been intentional to further draw lines between the past and present, but the juxtaposition of the two periods never really feels distinct from one another outside the fact that they are decades apart. It’s truly a shame, as some of the subtle elements that Wright manages to stick into his film’s slower moments feel absent here, playing out in a way that feels like a far cry from his past work.
Its no secret that Last Night in Soho draws heavy inspiration from the stylishly suave thrillers of Alfred Hitchcock and Dario Argento, with themes of dwindling psyches and hype stylized violence present throughout. Unfortunately, the story struggles to elevate the film to the heights of the films from these craft masters, mostly due in part to its lack of new ideas, takes or innovations. The film didn’t need to re-invent the wheel, but taking on a premise that covers heavy but familiar topics such as exploitation, sexual violence and the hauntings of the past should require some new or unique take or insight. These themes seem to be present in the story simply to tell the story, and if they’re meant to say more than the very basic of takes, I couldn’t find it here. It makes the film a perfectly serviceable thriller, yet the bar remains disappointingly unraised by the end. The script doesn’t do it any favors either. This has to be one of Wright’s weakest scripts, both from a story and dialogue standpoint. The writing seems to lack the smoothness and cleverness of his past endeavors, as everything begins to stumble by the end alongside a fairly obvious twist. The quick-wittedness of past films could have easily transferred into this spooky yet suave world, but it doesn’t appear the words were given as much care as the world they fill.
While the film never lives up to its genre-defining potential, it has enough going for it that keeps me from completely disregarding it. The sinisterly seductive eye-candy and haunting visuals certainly won’t leave you bored in your seats, and if you’ve never seen a film from Wright you may even have less of a gripe with the film’s shortcomings. What could have been will unfortunately hang over this film in my mind, as I love Wright‘s work enough that I have no choice but to be critical after knowing his capabilities. The film may be able to pull off its aesthetic of a waking nightmare, but Wright‘s foray into the darkly insidious is anything but a dream come true.
The blue and red motif might not be super original, but Wright manages to use the two colors in a way that differentiates the two realties our characters find themselves in without being overbearing or annoying. The Soho Nightmare reflects the balance of these two time periods, running parallel to one another with the ever looming fear of crossing. This is a classy, spirit forward cocktail inspired by Sandie’s (and to an extent Eloise’s) favorite drink, the vesper. The vesper is as strong and straightforward as they come, and while I could have simply covered that cocktail, I decided to add my own little spin to it to better fit the aesthetic of the film and make the drink more approachable. If you’re interested in learning more about the classic vesper, I do plan on covering it in the future, as it happens to be a certain international super spy’s drink of choice as well.
This layered martini has two parts to it. The blue section is where most of the vesper influence sits; a hefty combination of gin and vodka dyed blue with a splash of blue curacao. A vesper usually calls for a blanco vermouth, but I’ve opted to include a flavored blanco in the form of Vincenzi’s lemon and ginger vermouth. This gives the drink the slightest spice and a finish that’s reminiscent of a creamy, lemon pie. The red component is a new one for me: creme de cassis. It’s typically meant as an apertif, but because of its weight it sinks to the bottom of this particular cocktail. Nonetheless, it offers a sweet, fruity finish and gives the drink its layered look.
- 3oz gin
- 1oz vodka
- 1/2oz Vincenzi lemon & ginger blanco vermouth
- Splash of blue curacao
- 3/4ozz creme de cassis
- Garnish: Lemon twist
- In a mixing glass, combine the gin, vodka, vermouth and blue curacao.
- Stir with ice until chilled.
- Strain into chilled martini glass.
- Gently pour in the creme de cassis on the side of the glass, allowing it to sink to the bottom.
- Garnish with lemon twist.