The long-awaited eighth feature from director Edgar Wright, Last Night In Soho, is difficult to pin down. At once a sci-fi adventure, comedy, horror flick and nostalgic 1960s yarn, this hotchpotch of genres doesn’t quite know what it wants to be – but it makes for a fresh and unpredictable thrill ride through the backstreets of London.
We open on Eloise (played by Thomasin McKenzie), a modern-day design student who’s obsessed with the ‘60s. Orphaned since the age of seven when her mentally ill mother took her own life, Eloise was raised by her grandmother Peggy (Rita Tushingham). Peggy’s penchant for the most swinging of decades encouraged Eloise’s obsession – and it’s not long before the budding designer brings retro stylings to the London College of Fashion.
“You like that retro style?” asks one of her new classmates. And while that’s a bit of an understatement, it sets the tone for her college experience spent butting heads with the popular kids who disapprove of her different taste.
Thankfully, the ‘60s provides Eloise with the perfect refuge – quite literally. Escaping student halls, she (unrealistically) finds a reasonably priced room in central London. Though there’s more to her new digs than meets the eye. The creaky old house is owned by eccentric landlady Miss Collins, played by the late great Diana Rigg in her final screen role. At first, it seems as though Miss Collins hasn’t decorated in years – an aesthetic which suits Eloise down to the ground. But it’s more than that. It turns out that her room offers passage to the past, thrusting Eloise into a world she has only ever imagined second-hand.
While in the ‘60s, she embodies the model-esque Sandy (Anya Taylor-Joy), a wannabe singer who’s not quite on the right path to stardom. Although she first enjoys the sights and sounds, skipping through an old-timey Leicester Square as she revels in the era she’s long yearned for, the shine of the ‘60s soon begins to tarnish. It emerges that Sandy is being pursued by the charming-at-first sleazeball Jack (Matt Smith). This slick predator is determined to lead her down a far less wholesome path, and Eloise realises that the end of Sandy’s story might not be as happy as she’d hoped.
The rest of the film takes a more sinister turn, pitching Last Night In Soho directly into horror territory. It’s a neat trick, deftly handled by Wright as he mashes ideas together to create a truly unique experience. And as far as performances go, both Thomasin McKenzie and Anya Taylor-Joy clearly revel in their wide-eyed, fearful roles. The more Ellie explores her strange link to Sandy, the more fearful she becomes – will she die too, if Sandy comes a cropper?
That question should keep audiences guessing throughout a film which bears all the hallmarks of its creator. A never-ending stream of pop culture references, impressive needle drops and Wright’s signature witty asides will please fans, though Last Night In Soho feels far flung from Shaun Of The Dead and Hot Fuzz. Here, Wright has embarked upon a fascinating different direction, clearly distinct from what he’s done before. It could be one of his greatest hits.
- Director: Edgar Wright
- Starring: Anya Taylor-Joy, Matt Smith, Thomasin McKenzie
- Release date: October 29 (in UK cinemas)