Edgar Wright’s Last Night in Soho opens on Friday, so over the past several days and weeks, we’ve been seeing a lot of the British director of Baby Driver (2017) and the “Cornetto trilogy”—Shaun of the Dead (2004), Hot Fuzz (2007), and The World’s End (2013). On the Criterion Channel, Wright talks with critic Alicia Malone about his selection of nine films from such divergent directors as Mario Bava, Ingmar Bergman, and Nicolas Roeg. He writes about ten more favorites in the latest Observer New Review, an issue he’s edited that could well serve as a neatly designed set of program notes for Last Night in Soho.
The ten titles are culled from a list of fifty British films recommended to him by Martin Scorsese, a list that Wright and Quentin Tarantino discussed during their three-hour episode of the Empire Film Podcast back in February. Wright’s issue of the Review also features Kim Newman’s tour of fifteen spots in Soho, “London’s liveliest, strangest, most haunted sector,” where scenes from films such as Michael Powell’s Peeping Tom (1960) and John Schlesinger’s Darling (1965) were shot; Rachel Cooke’s touching profile of women who worked in the district’s clubs in the 1960s; and Rachael Stirling’s moving tribute to her remarkable mother, the late Diana Rigg, whose portrayal of Emma Peel, the mod spy in The Avengers, made her a star in the mid-’60s.
Last Night in Soho is dedicated to Rigg, who gave her last performance in the film as a landlady who rents a room to Eloise (Thomasin McKenzie), who has come to London from rural Cornwall to study fashion. That room may be haunted by a previous occupant, Sandie (Anya Taylor-Joy), a singer who, in 1965, aims to become the next Cilla Black, the performer who ran with the Beatles and recorded a string of chart-topping hits. Something is transporting Eloise back to Swinging London, where she is at first enthralled to see the bright lights of the big city through Sandie’s eyes and then horrified to witness Sandie’s ruin at the hands of her manipulative lover, Jack (Matt Smith).
Since the premiere in Venice, reviews of Last Night in Soho have been mixed. In Variety,Guy Lodge finds it to be “a surprising misfire, all the more disappointing for being made with such palpable care and conviction. Wright’s particular affections for B-movies, British Invasion pop and a fast-fading pocket of urban London may be written all over the film, but they aren’t compellingly written into it, ultimately swamping the thin supernatural sleuth story at its heart.”
Wright has always “made a point of lovingly lampooning generic cliches, co-opting and subverting them with playful inventiveness,” writes Jessica Kiang at the Playlist, but this is “the first time Wright hasn’t sent up such clichés but lapsed into them.” But Kiang does admire the work of cinematographer and frequent Park Chan-wook collaborator, Chung Chung-hoon, “whose images lend a glossy, lacquered finish, especially to those glitzy, ritzy, and eventually sleazy period sequences.”
“In everything from its use of color, POV shots, and images that play with perspective and reality, Last Night in Soho draws much inspiration from the giallo’s constellation of tropes to conjure a suspenseful fever dream,” writes Mark Hanson at Slant. Little White Lies’ David Jenkins notes that Wright “flexes his considerable technical muscles by having Eloise and Sandie constantly switching between the foreground and a background mirror image. These subtle special effects are pulled off with amazing precision, and you really have to pay attention to who’s center frame and how that plays into its complex, identity-toying storyline.”
Among the film’s champions is the Telegraph’s Robbie Collin, who calls it “a riotous, rascally hybrid of a thing: part glittering love-letter to the disreputable nightlife district in which it takes place, part darting psychological thriller that rips up the letter as soon as it’s written before tearfully torching the scraps. For a sense of its tone, imagine one of those playful-yet-cautionary postwar British dramas about innocent young women making their way in the big city—most of them seemed to star Rita Tushingham, who has a talismanic supporting role here as Eloise’s grandmother—then refract it through the lurid crack-up horror lens of Suspiria or Repulsion.”
The Hollywood Reporter’s David Rooney finds Last Night in Soho “immensely pleasurable” and gives a shoutout to Steven Prince, whose score “gradually builds from ominous suspense into all-out Grand Guignol horror.” Wright and editor Paul Machliss, adds Rooney, “zig and zag with dexterous vitality between the two eras.” For Glenn Kenny at RogerEbert.com, Soho is “an estimable, genuine horror movie that also manages to say something real—without trying to ‘elevate’ the genre. The genre, as Wright well knows, can be good enough as it is and has been.”
For news and items of interest throughout the day, every day, follow @CriterionDaily.