Thomasin McKenzie and Anya Taylor-Joy will one day be Oscar-winning actresses...of this, I have no doubt. They are two of the most captivating and talented young actresses in Hollywood and of their generation, and to see them face-off in "Last Night in Soho" is truly a sight to behold.
Edgar Wright ("Baby Driver," "Shaun of the Dead") helms this luscious, intoxicating film with confidence, style and pizzazz. It nearly derails with an abrupt shift from psychological thriller to straight-up horror in its final act, but Wright sticks the landing thanks to his commanding leading ladies.
Thomasin McKenzie is just 21 years old, having burst onto the scene in the 2018 gem "Leave No Trace" (the rarest of rare films that currently holds a perfect 100% RottenTomatoes rating, even with over 240 reviews). Many more found out about her in 2019's Oscar-nominated "Jojo Rabbit," and after they see her in "Last Night in Soho" she will hopefully become a household name. Anya Taylor-Joy already had that happen to her, with her Emmy-Award-winning turn in the hottest show of 2020, Netflix's "The Queen's Gambit." Together, they make "Last Night in Soho" a movie that is hard to look away from.
Like his previous film "Baby Driver," the soundtrack to "Last Night in Soho" is a character all itself, and provides the life-blood for the story and its setting. In fact, we first meet Eloise (McKenzie) jamming to a 1960s track, and the hits never let up. Eloise lives with her Grandma (Rita Tushingham) but was just accepted into fashion school in London. We learn that Eloise never knew her father and that her mother committed suicide, having suffered from mental health issues. We also see that the apple may not have fallen far from the tree, because Eloise herself seems to be haunted by visions of her dead mother.
London proves to be way too much for Eloise, and she doesn't quite fit in with the other party girls. So she rents an upstairs apartment from a shrill old woman (the amazing, late Diana Rigg, who passed away months after filming). That's when the visions begin. Eloise begins to see a reflection of herself cast back as Sandie (Taylor-Joy) a bold young woman pursuing a singing career in 1960s London. Eloise is a spectator as she watches Sandie's life, who becomes romantically involved with her manager, Jack (Matt Smith).
At first, these visions occur for Eloise only at night once she's asleep, as the allure of the 1960s begins to have an effect on her own appearance and her fashion sense. But these trips into the past increasingly grow violent and scary. It doesn't take long for these nightmares to infect her waking life, where she is suddenly haunted by visions that seem to threaten her very existence.
For much of the movie, the viewers are not supposed to know exactly what's going on, and the music, color and style is enough to keep us engaged. The problem with movies that string you along though, is that they put an awful lot of pressure on delivering a satisfying pay-off for all of the investment. That's where "Last Night in Soho" falls a bit short. For as riveting as the movie is, it comes as a disappointment when you finally discover what exactly has been going on all of this time.
There are some fantastic bit performances, like from Rigg and also the great Terence Stamp, as a mysterious figure who seems to be connected to Sandie's past. But this is an award-worthy performance from Thomasin McKenzie, who steals every scene she's in, until she gives room for Anya Taylor-Joy to do the same.
It seems that many have much deeper issues with the ending of "Last Night in Soho," but I found this enchanting journey worth the time. The soundtrack alone is worth the experience. And although it ends up being a somewhat sloshed-together mash-up of genres, in lesser hands, it could have been a real nightmare.
Genre: Drama, Horror, Mystery.
Run Time: 1 hour 56 minutes.
Starring: Anna Taylor-Joy, Thomasin McKenzie, Matt Smith, Diana Rigg.
Story by and Directed by Edgar Wright ("The Sparks Brothers," "Baby Driver," "The World's End," "Hot Fuzz," "Shaun of the Dead").
"Last Night in Soho" is in theaters on Friday, October 29th, 2021.
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