What a disappointment it is not love Last Night in Soho. Edgar Wright doing a stylish mix of horror and psychological thriller? This should have been a fiendish delight, full of the sort of cinematic energy Wright does so well. Instead, this is some style, no substance, and far too rote. Cliches and jump scares eventually replace thoughts, as well as twists that are impossible not to see coming. The acting is strong and individual directorial choices work, but the package does not. This is easily the biggest letdown of the 2021 Toronto International Film Festival so far. What a bummer.
Last Night in Soho has all the elements for something really fun. There’s sex, violence, and even something resembling time travel. And yet, despite the early promise, there’s always a sense that something is a bit off. Then, as things progress, that feeling becomes more and more vivid.
Eloise (Thomasin McKenzie) is an aspiring fashion designer from a small town in the countryside. Accepted to fashion college in London, she ignores her grandmother’s warnings that the city can be a lot and that Eloise’s deceases mother couldn’t handle it. Of course, no sooner does she arrive than the bright-eyed girl is met by a mean girl roommate and sleazy men. Before long, she’s hating it and moves out to rent a room from Miss Collins (Diana Rigg). The first night there, when she goes to sleep, something amazing happens, transporting her to Soho in the 1960s.
Whenever she goes to sleep, Eloise encounters Sandie (Anya Taylor-Joy), an aspiring singer. They even appear to share the same experiences, such as a hickey from her boyfriend/manager Jack (Matt Smith). Inspired by Sandie, Eloise changes her hair and begins to draw her vintage outfits, earning praise from her professors. But the more she has these visions/travels back in time, the more she learns the horrifying nature of Sandie’s experience. Not only does the dream become a nightmare, but their realities begin to merge, until Eloise herself worries that she’s beginning to crack. The truth? Well, that’s meant to be even more terrifying.
One thing this has going in its favor is its actresses. Thomasin McKenzie and Anya Taylor-Joy are very good here. So is the late Diana Rigg in a plum supporting role. McKenzie plays the babe in the woods quite well, until she becomes very much a scream queen. Taylor-Joy inhabits a wannabe starlet in such a way that you never doubt that potential fame would be in the cards. As for Rigg, it’s just nice to see her with a juicy role like this. Other cast members, like the aforementioned Matt Smith, are one note. Supporting players include Michael Ajao as well as Terence Stamp, but it’s really just about McKenzie and Taylor-Joy.
Edgar Wright directs and co-writes here with Krysty Wilson-Cairns. The latter element (the script) could be where the issue resides. The story just isn’t very good once it starts to unravel. Wright’s visuals are solid, though some of the more overt horror elements just feel beneath him. It’s as if Wilson-Cairns and Wright wrote themselves into a corner while penning Last Night in Soho. Without a fully realized idea to get themselves out of trouble, they just double down.
Last Night in Soho can’t help but seem like the first draft of something much better. The final moments are pretty good, as are elements of the first act, but from about the midpoint on, things are way rougher than you’d expect. If this were just a garden variety psychological thriller playing at TIFF this year, that would be one thing. But, we know what Edgar Wright is capable of. So, this feels like all the bigger disappointment because of that.