Edgar Wright has gifted us with the likes of Shaun of the Dead, Baby Driver, and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (a personal favorite), so I went into Last Night in Soho (2021) with considerable enthusiasm, despite its rather mixed reception. Unsurprisingly, it’s visually impressive and there’s a lot to admire about it, even if it doesn’t rank among his best.
Last Night in Soho follows a meek young fashion student named Ellie (Thomasin McKenzie), who relocates from the English countryside to London to pursue a career in fashion. Ellie’s quiet upbringing – raised by a loving grandmother (Rita Tushingham) in the wake of her mother’s tragic death – doesn’t quite prepare her for the cut-throat elitism of her new classmates, so she moves off-campus to a bedsit. Owned by strict, elderly landlord Ms. Collins (Diana Rigg), the loft seems like the perfect place for Ellie to build her hip new metropolitan life designing clothes inspired by a throwback passion for mod-sixties kitsch. But her new home comes with a series of visions that propel her backwards in time, into the body and life of Sandy (Anya Taylor-Joy), an aspiring singer launching her career in mid-twentieth-century London. First magical but increasingly horrific, Ellie’s “travels” trigger dormant mental-health problems, and as she solves the mystery of Sandy’s fate, her naïve dreams of an idealized past are systematically dismantled, in terrifying ways.
Last Night in Soho boasts Wright’s reliable confidence and stylish energy, which proves immediately engrossing. It builds enticingly from an unsettling coming-of-age story to an increasingly creepy psychological thriller in the vein of Alfred Hitchcock. Unfortunately, it scores more points with its early intrigue than with its demystifying final act, which is way too anxious to decrypt the plot and spell out the themes. But McKenzie serves as a compelling protagonist, and the rest of the cast – which also includes Michael Ajao, Matt Smith, and a perfectly cast Terence Stamp – is rock solid in support. Overall, a soundly crafted thriller that doesn’t quite live up to Wright’s reputation for inventive flair.