When I first viewed the marketing material for Last Night in Soho, two emotions swept over me that I couldn’t quite wrap my finger around, until now. The first feeling was a sense of anticipation for what looked like a fresh avenue for renowned director Edgar Wright. The second was a small degree of trepidation for how this largely comedic writer-director would transition into a grounded horror setting. I brushed any trace of this conflict aside as I knew there was something I could certainly rely on; that being, Edgar Wright’s tried and true (and famously entertaining) editing style… or so I thought.
Edgar Wright is a creative who has been worshiped by avid film enthusiasts, studied and droned on about in countless film articles for well over a decade – all for his distinct film-making style. From his snappy editing, blink-and-you-miss-it humor, and synchronized soundtracks, this is a director who has honed his craft so well that the way he films has become more renowned than the actual content of his films. Wright has gained such an enormous reputation for his rapid editing and fluid scene-to-scene transitions that it borders on spawning its own adjective, like Wrightian or Wrightesque. In an ocean of films that singularly use editing as a blunt instrument to assemble their story in a coherent manner, Wright contrarily has been known to construct his story almost entirely around the way he edits, much like Japanese director Satoshi Kon does. However, with Last Night in Soho, that trend changes.
Last Night in Soho is unquestionably a departure from Wright’s typical storytelling style. Do clever edits exist here? Yes. Are there blink-and-you-miss-it moments? Yes. Are there synchronized soundtracks? Yes, sort of. But in spite of all this, these moments are so sparse that this film hardly qualifies as what has popularly known to be an Edgar Wright film. That’s right, this Edgar Wright film isn’t much of an Edgar Wright film. It feels like if Wes Anderson were to abandon centered framing and pastel colors – you wouldn’t help but feel like you’ve somehow been shortchanged. However, with all that, of course there is no rulebook that demands a director stay true to their “style” and Last Night in Soho still contains buckets of it, even if we are indeed being duped out of the best part.
The story follows a girl named Eloise (Thomasin McKenzie), a small town girl who has made her move to the big city to learn the art of fashion design. Upon settling in, Eloise finds herself having visions embodying another girl, Sandy (Anya Taylor Joy) in 1960’s London. Throughout this sultry and stark story we get to experience views of both modern day London and its 1960’s counterpart, as time periods rapidly switch between the dull modern age and the stylishly lavish view of the 1960’s. This film stitches time periods together like an expert tailor, weaving in and out with a needle and thread. What I found particularly compelling in Last Night in Soho was director Edgar Wright’s deft handle on how greatly we romanticize the style of the 1960’s meanwhile ignoring the festering underbelly of that period. It doesn’t take long for the opulent perception of that time period to feel more like a nightmare than a dream to both the audience and to Eloise.
Between the fabric of this film there is also a larger mystery that I’d like to get to the bottom of, and no, it’s not this film’s plot twist, but rather – the identity of this film itself. Ironic perhaps that a story about a girl having an identity crisis has one of its very own. Last Night in Soho may weave together time periods with masterful skill, but it struggles with genres, and when you run your hand across it, you begin to notice things feel anything but seamless. Frankly, the forced injection of horror throughout this narrative was odd, you could feel it shaking under its own weight. Aside from the popularized trend of horror allegory, there is little in this story to truly justify it literally being a horror. The bulk of this story’s emotional and even thematic impact is fueled largely by its mystery elements and the juxtaposition of time periods we see. Any and all horror in this film feels plainly and simply, misplaced. Why this story was made into a horror is the greatest mystery to me.
Thankfully this film is a sight for sore eyes, with its exquisite set-pieces making each sequence feel more extravagant than the next. The inky neon lighting largely seen throughout the night time sequences of the 1960’s create an aura of mystique and sinister undertones. Meanwhile the blander modern day setting largely feels safer, again juxtaposing the two realities that Eloise seemingly jumps between. It’s really the incredible use of lighting that gives this film such texture, everything feels delightfully cinematic and larger than life. Wright’s distinct clever edits can be seen, albeit used conservatively but they undoubtedly add to the whole affair.
As for sound, the literal needle drops in Last Night in Soho are easily one of the film’s best qualities and it wouldn’t be an Edgar Wright film without some catchy tunes. Compiling an excellent range of songs from the 1960s with a few from the 1980s, the music throughout the film doesn’t seem to feel overstuffed. Each soundtrack is played for the appropriate amount of time and when they are being played it mostly enhances the vibe the scenes are trying to achieve.
Last Night in Soho feels as though director Edgar Wright is rebelling to the idea of his skills being placed into a box; that he can only make a certain kind of film in a certain kind of way and perhaps this film is his antidote for it, or a statement that it shouldn’t be this way. The result from all this is that I ultimately hungered to see this director do the things he is good at. I can’t knock a man for wanting to prove his talents aren’t narrow, but I also can’t give away praise when the result is somewhat middling. Wright is a fantastic film-maker, which is why it’s so difficult to see him try to prove it.