I love Edgar Wright. Like most other film fans my age, watching his films while growing up really changed the way I thought about the medium as well as simply inspiring me. In particular, Hot Fuzz remains one of my favourite films, a film that aside from being hilarious and action-packed and fast paced, was also a film that showed me what films can do. I was ten at the time, so I mainly mean it showed me how violent films can be, but it was still a formative moment. All of this preamble is important because it’s me saying upfront that I love Edgar Wright’s filmmaking style and explains why, despite being willing to follow him anywhere, the news that his next fiction film would be a straight horror film worried me somewhat. That new film is Last Night in Soho and as you may expect, my worrying was misplaced.
The setup of Last Night is fab. A young woman named Eloise moves to London from the countryside in order to attend a fashion design university. She, like countless students before her, finds that the sheen of London rubs off quite quickly and she soon becomes disenfranchised with a city that is nothing like she expected. Searching for escapism, she finds just that in visions of London from the sixties. In these visions Eloise is an aspiring dancer named Sandie, navigating the exciting world of London during its seedy heyday. While attempting to work out if these visions are glimpses into the past or dreamlike hallucinations though, things suddenly get worse and that’s all I’m going to tell you. Edgar Wright left a note to be read at the press screening (of all the films, the only time a director did that, thank you for the effort Edgar) in which he asked reviewers not to divulge many of the plot details and out of respect for Wright, I’m doing exactly that. The second half gets twisty and scary and very fun, but that’s for you to discover, not for me to spoil.
I’m a real fan of the cast here, it’s one of those cast lists in which not a single performer gives a weak performance. In the lead role of Eloise is Thomasin McKenzie, who has been great since Leave No Trace and continues filling out a filmography that is already very impressive. Having seen her in a few things, she wouldn’t be an obvious choice as the lead in a horror film, but she works really well and that’s why I’m not a casting director. The much showier role of the two leads is Sandie, played by Anya Taylor-Joy. Again, she’s a young actress who seems to have barely put a foot wrong (and even whatever weird dance The New Mutants was barely feels like her fault) and she absolutely tears into her role. She has to embody the spirit of glamour, a glamour so complete that it feels almost artificial, which as a beautiful woman is the feeling Taylor-Joy casts on much of the internet regularly. Fortunately, she’s not just a pretty face and really gets to have some fun with the places that Sandie goes to. Even in the quieter moments, just the way she moves and stares towards people and places feels inherently cinematic. She seems born to be a movie star and this is yet another perfect fit for her.
Surrounding these two women are plenty of well-established and well loved British actors, chewing scenery or adding intrigue where appropriate. I’m going to sound incredibly vague when talking about the roles these actors play, because I don’t want to spoil the ways they all feed into the wider plot, so apologies if the descriptions don’t sound particularly in depth. Matt Smith is a handsome man in a suit, who Sandie encounters in the sixties. I’ve loved him since Doctor Who and it feels like he hasn’t had a worthwhile role since. Until now, that is, so thank you Edgar. Veteran British actor Terrence Stamp meanwhile is over in the present day, playing a mysterious white haired man who seems to have been quite the charmer back in his day. Most of his time is spent looming suspiciously, so when he does get dialogue Stamp makes it count. Finally, in her final performance, is Diana Rigg as Eloise’s landlord. There initially doesn’t seem to be a great deal to her role, but keep watching and she may just surprise you. She is hiding something and it’s a secret well worth discovering.
Wright is still working very clearly in genre filmmaking, specifically horror. It’s not the kind of horror that’s going to ruin your night with a lack of sleep, rather the special kind of cheesy horror.
I mentioned it already earlier, but this is tonally quite different to Wright’s previous fiction films (I’m being specific and pedantic because obviously The Sparks Brothers is different). Characters still make jokes and I found myself laughing a lot, but the filmmaking itself isn’t used for comedy. In earlier Wright films, editing would be used to cut to things at the perfect moment or to contrast two different things, making comedy happen even when no one was being funny. While that is gone, Wright is still working very clearly in genre filmmaking, specifically horror. It’s not the kind of horror that’s going to ruin your night with a lack of sleep, rather the same special kind of cheesy horror that Malignant was (side note, if you haven’t seen Malignant, very much get on that). The word I kept coming back to was fun, in that even when I was getting spooked or when I was nervous or any other stage of scared, I would find myself grinning. It is a great film to spend time inside, especially with a packed audience. I am going to make sure I see it plenty while it’s in cinemas, because it’s a film that deserves to be soundtracked by screams and giggles.
Wright is taking the opportunity while trying something new to also play around with the visual side.
Last Night is also a film soundtracked by actual songs though, which is classic Wright. Like his good buddy Quentin Tarantino, Wright has an immaculate ear for picking either little known songs to put into his films or finding the perfect moment for a more well known song. That streak continues untouched here, be it the titular song, Sandie’s rendition of “Downtown” or any number of songs I didn’t recognise but loved the use of. It’s also Wright’s best looking film yet, evoking the period setting with what looks like ease. In particular, Eloise’s room has a neon light outside which allows for multiple references to a very particular shot in Vertigo that I have gone on record about as being one of my favourite shots from any film ever. These beautiful visuals do feel hard worked for, like Wright is taking the opportunity while trying something new to also play around with the visual side and it’s an incredibly promising experiment. I’m not sure what he plans to make next, but if it continues this trajectory it will be jaw-droppingly stunning.
So surprise surprise, 22 year old film student loves Edgar Wright film. In fairness, Last Night is proving more divisive than most of Wright’s films, but it’s so completely up my street that it’s embarrassing. It’s a tale of fractured identity, messing around with time, all while being a very fun exercise in generic play. Quite simply, it’s a really grand time at the cinema and when it releases at the end of the month, it’ll be perfect for a late night Halloween watch. I’ll be right back there in the cinema with you, to enjoy the ride once again and soak in the fumes of yet another night in Soho.