Edgar Wright’s Last Night in Soho (2022)
By Hellora Silva
Last Night in Soho had everything going for it: It’s marketing, the stylization of London’s Soho in the ’60s, the soundtrack. Even director Edgar Wright changed his impressive filmmaking formula to a more straight and serious horror style to create the film. So why, despite all the love for this film, does it feel like it’s lacking something?
Last Night in Soho was released on October 29th to audiences after screening at the 78th Venice International Film festival. Immediate reception to the film was in good spirits and the film seemed to be doing well, till the criticism of the film’s writing and the ending came into view.
The film stars Thomasin McKenzie as the main character Ellie and Anya Taylor-Joy as Sandie, who embark together on this journey through Soho in modern times and through the 60s nightlife. The twist, Sandie is a ghost that Ellie can both watch and become at night.
At first, the film treats itself like a horror character study. Ellie wishes to make it big in the fashion world and views Sandie as the confident and beautiful girl she wants to be. But slowly it morphs into Sandie being forced into 60s Soho’s infamous nightlife and Ellie trying to break through their connection to save her.
The film deep dives into the psychological state of Ellie as she starts to deprive herself of sleep, in order to keep her distance away from Sandie’s life until she starts to witness the past while she’s awake. Then it becomes her obsession to try to figure out who Sandie was and how to save her until the end is revealed and the true story of what became of Sandie comes out.
The visuals are stunning, the 60’s Soho era is really brought back to life in this film. Costuming as well takes such a centerpiece with all of Anya Taylor-Joy’s wardrobe and Ellie’s transformation throughout the film. Once again Wright’s stylistic editing creates such a unique look at Soho and its nightlife in the film.
Cinematographer Chung-hoon Chung works wonders for the movie, especially in the first dance scene between Anya Taylor-Joy, Matt Smith, and Thomasin McKenzie’s characters. The camera dances with the cast as they swap out Taylor-Joy with McKenzie using only digital effects and cuts once in the whole minute and forty-second scene.
The stylization of the film doesn’t even end there. When the film starts to turn gritty and Sandie’s storyline becomes more of a cautionary tale of 60’s Soho, Wright does a good job of keeping the stylization of the world he built, the costumes, sets, and lighting, but turns them slightly on their head. The red and blue lighting becomes more oppressive when Ellie goes to bed. The characters, though dressed beautifully look more disheveled and abused. Wright starts to un-glamorize the glamorization he had created of 60’s Soho, which is not an easy tonal shift.
So, what could have gone wrong?
The third act is well, a bit lacking. By no means is Edgar Wright new to the horror genre at all but his horror has always been tied to his comedy. With Shaun of the Dead (2004) being so revolutionary in its style but also introducing Wright’s horror-comedy blend as his brand, it was interesting to see him take on Last Night in Soho as a straight-on horror film.
And though the second act, where we see Sandie fall into the wrong parts of Soho’s nightlife and Ellie desperately trying to distance herself, is done well and terrifying in its own right, the true horror that comes in the third act unbalances the film.
A lot of the major complaints were that the manifestations of the ghosts trying to get to Ellie aren’t scary at all. They are men dressed in period clothing who have no faces, not exactly a slender-man type monster but not terrifying enough that the audience felt compelled by them. Many viewers who noticed that this was going to be a horror film or are fans of the horror genre felt that the ghosts were entirely lackluster (Which lowers the rating of the film but doesn’t impede the film from being good).
The next complaint comes in the plot twist of what actually happened to Sandie. Ellie watches as Sandie is murdered right in her bed, but in the final act, it is seen that Sandie actually murdered Jack (Matt Smith) that night. Then there is an expected scene where the landlady (Ms. Collins) reveals to Ellie that she is actually Sandie and that in order to get revenge on what the men had done to her she started killing them. Then the movie devolves into Ellie trying to escape from Ms. Collins, only to then try and save her from the house fire that is erupting.
The film then ends with Ellie having moved on and been able to create a partially 60’s inspired clothing line for her fashion school project.
Though this ending seems pretty run of the mill, and probably why is it’s too liked, the real reason it’s disliked is just how the horror of the scene never really sets in. The audience is never too scared for Ellie, either by the ghosts or Ms. Collins, and so they know that she will make it out. Then when the film confirms that Ellie has survived, not only does Ellie see the ghost of her mother but also the ghost of Sandie which conflicts with the ending. Is Ellie finally free from the ghosts of the room and Ms. Collins/ Sandie? The film muddles their answer when attempting to not make the answer obvious.
Despite the lackluster ghosts, the muddled ending, and the miss at straight horror, Edgar Wright managed to make an interesting film with a compelling story. The stylization of 60’s Soho, the style Wright is known for in his films, and the amazing cast takes this up a level and doesn’t let it get too muddled down by its ending. The film isn’t perfect and probably isn’t considered one of his best, but as a first attempt at straight horror with wonderful character analysis, Wright does a good job.