Last Night in Soho (2021) ‘BFI’ Review – A Lightly Entertaining Mystery Let Down by Damp Dialogue
Given Edgar Wright’s track record, you wouldn’t be blamed for thinking the highly acclaimed director would continue venturing into creating maniacally edited, sharply paced, and brilliantly witty comedies. However, with Last Night in Soho, he takes a stab at introducing modern audiences to the style and atmosphere of Giallo cinema with an effort that has all the building blocks of this signature Italian horror genre, but with all the flare of Wright’s unique direction. The result? A wild, colorful, yet brazenly unbalanced adventure into the darkest corners of London.
We follow Eloise (Thomasin McKenzie), a student who has moved from Cornwall to London to study fashion in the heart of the ancient city. Struggling to fit in, she decides to bedsit for Miss Collins (the late, but great, Diana Rigg) and spends her evenings plunged into initially delightful visions of the 1960s. However, she soon cannot escape the nightmares, ghosts, and grizzly events surrounding the life of Sandie (Anya Taylor-Joy), an ill-treated singer.
Last Night in Soho has some exceptional foundations and seriously impressive performances. Taylor-Joy, Rigg, and Terence Stamp are all wondrously cast in their respective roles, but Thomasin McKenzie absolutely kills with her performance. Eloise is a delightfully passionate fashion student, making our empathy strong when the tortuous deliriums of the past come to torment her to breaking point.
A good allegory for finding your footing in a strange new location, but a great allegory for how new experiences may, unfortunately, unearth a lifetime of trauma. 1960s Soho is gorgeously bought to life by The Handmaiden D.O.P Jeong Jeong-hun, but once again, the soundtrack selection is the undoubtable highlight of this film. My favorite sequence involves Sandie frantically bopping to ‘Land of 1000 Dances’ as she reluctantly indulges the approaches of many sweaty men.
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It’s a real shame that despite so many positives, I would likely describe Wright’s first venture into horror, minus the comedy, as his weakest joint. That’s not to say that this isn’t a decent attempt, but this is easily the weakest script this veteran filmmaker has worked with, and his weakest understanding of genre specialties.
The second half of the film is irregularly paced, and we get a swathe of rushed, corny dialogue. Although there is a particularly clever reveal towards the end of Last Night in Soho it is undercut by how little time we are given to mull over the consequences of Eloise and her perception of what she has witnessed relative to the horrors she has been through.
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The final scene has such a fluffed emotional payoff for our protagonist, and it’s disappointing given the strength of McKenzie’s performance as Eloise and her relationship with Sandie’s own traumatic past. Gialli films can be notoriously dated, but there is at least a commitment to tone, we don’t get so much commitment here. Matt Smith who plays the antagonist Jack was sorely underused throughout, but easily the film’s biggest sin is that it isn’t particularly tense, or at least creepy, at all.
Regardless of grievances, this is a film that beckons measured expectations and there is certainly a lot to enjoy here. If you’re expecting tension, consistent tone, and chills, you’re going to be thoroughly let down. However, if you’re in for an intriguing mystery with brilliant performances and an assured sense of editing, music, and direction … then Last Night in Soho will not hold back.