Edgar Wright is a director known for breaking the genre conventions of comedy, romance, action, thriller and even “end of the world” films. This time he twists-up the “coming of age” story AND horror with “Last Night in Soho”.
Thomasin McKenzie had her breakthrough moment opposite Ben Foster in 2018’s “Leave No Trace”. She followed that up with great supporting work in “Jojo Rabbit” and “Old”. In “Soho” McKenzie delivers the kind of star-making, adult, lead performance every young actress dreams.
She plays Eloise. The late teen leaves her English countryside home she shared with her Grandmother (her mother died when she was young) to study fashion design in London. Ellie is immersed in the 1960s — especially in her fashion and music choices. When she gets to Soho, Ellie quickly rejects dorm life (including a repulsive roommate) and rents a top floor room in an old flat.
The owner is Ms. Collins, played by the late Diana Rigg, in her final role. Even in this supporting presence, Rigg delivers a memorable and effective on-screen farewell.
There’s something strange about this room. When Ellie falls asleep she’s transported back into the 60’s nightlife of Soho. She meets a young woman named Sandie (played by “The Queen’s Gambit” star Anya Taylor-Joy), who’s also young and innocent, looking to prove herself and make it big in the big city. How these two interact with and without each other is much of the mystery and intrigue of “Soho”. Some of what happens makes sense — some doesn’t — but the result is never dull.
Fans of Taylor-Joy may be slightly disappointed walking out of “Soho”. While Sandie is pivotal to the story’s unsettling movement, she’s intentionally kept in a confined box. Outside of an a cappella rendition of “Downtown”, Taylor-Joy isn’t give much room to put her make on the role.
Make no mistake — this is McKenzie’s movie. She’s believable in every scene, from the first half dealing with the grim, gritty, uncomfortable real world, to a second half that tests Ellie’s physical, mental and emotional limits. There are a few too many hallucinations scenes — but they do allow McKenzie’s performance to shine even brighter.
Wright and Oscar nominee Kristy Wilson-Cairns (“1917”) co-wrote the screenplay. I figured out a couple of the twists early on, but there are others you simply can’t predict. (A 30-second cameo is one of the film’s best surprises.) Not every element works (I’m still left with some questions), but I give the duo credit for taking chances with the script and giving us a narrative with a legitimate arc.
“Last Night in Soho” is stylistically cool, structurally imperfect but, overall, as trippy as they come. When you’re alone and life is making you lonely… there are movie shows… Downtown — or at your suburban multiplex. (Can’t see this one on any streaming service!)
LCJ GRADE: B-
Running Time: 116 min.