Arts, Culture & Entertainment

Neon-colored glasses - ‘Last Night in Soho’

Edgar Wright’s ‘Last Night in Soho’ is a visually vibrant spectacle that experiments with horror in a world of shattered dreams.

Anya Taylor-Joy and Thomasin McKenzie playing Sandie and Eloise, respectively in "Last Night in Soho."

This article contains mild spoilers for “Last Night in Soho.”

“When you’re alone and life is making you lonely, you could always go… downtown,” sings the lyrics to Petula Clark’s 1964 song “Downtown.” It acts as a companion piece and “theme song” to Edgar Wright’s latest film, “Last Night in Soho,” singing of an escape to a better time, place and life beyond the realities of the present.

“Last Night in Soho,” tells of a young fashion design student, Eloise (Thomasin McKenzie), who after moving to London, begins having dreams where she experiences the life of an aspiring singer in the 1960s named Sandie (Anya Taylor-Joy). At first, Eloise is enchanted by her supernatural escape to a world so rich with charm, music and excitement away from the dullness and brutalities of her modern life. However, as these dreams continue, she realizes that her idolization of the 1960s might be misplaced, as shrouded darkness was deeply rooted in the streets of London long before her arrival. This is a film about dreams (literal and figurative) and the destruction of one’s aspirations and idealism by societal pressure.

Culture shock plays a crucial role in both Eloise and Sandie’s stories. They realize that their respective ambitions might only take them so far in a reality that exists in contrast to their heightened, picture-perfect image of show business and London itself. Eloise was born and raised in the countryside, and her dreams of becoming a fashion designer coincide with her dreams of urban life. Yet, when she finally arrives there, she is immediately met with a perverted taxi driver, student bullies, and the constant restlessness of the city. When her reality does not meet her expectations, she runs away in desperation. She discovers an old, rundown apartment where she literally escapes through her dreams to the world of her fantasy. Wright juxtaposes the dream world with reality by utilizing a contrasting color palette that clashes between the cold, bleak grey of modern London and the warm yellows and bright lights of the 1960s. Through Sandie, she enters a high-end club where she meets the charming Jack (Matt Smith), who appears as this knight in shining armour who offers to help her jump-start her singing career. In a horrifying turn of events, Sandie realizes that Jack had no intention of helping her and he was just grooming her for prostitution. This harsh realization comes too late and she is unable to escape from this life.

A still of Anya-Taylor Joy as Sandie in "Last Night in Soho."

With their dreams seemingly crushed, both women struggle as their sense of identity begins to unravel. In response to this, they try to create different faces as a substitute for their loss of self-identity. Several times throughout the film, Wright recreates this visually, whether it be through a dizzying effect or through mirrors. There are scenes where a character’s eyes are adjusting to the person before them, and their faces split as the lens attempts to focus. This is shown through the way certain characters are lit in neon lights then duplicated in editing and overlaid, to give this image of “seeing double” in various scenes. Meanwhile, other scenes might have Sandie walking down a staircase next to an array of mirrors, where Eloise appears as many, watching the story unfold. Through their respective losses of innocence as they are exposed to this city, they attempt to form personalities to conform to the world around them, with Eloise abandoning the “homemade” aspect of her past in exchange for a store-bought aesthetic that matches Sandie’s appearances in her dreams. Sandie on the other hand goes by multiple names and faces when meeting clients.

In doing so, both of them lose sight of their ambitions and their ultimate intentions, and it is only through looking in a mirror that they can reflect and remember who they were before their transformation. Repeatedly, Sandie refuses to look into the glass where Eloise desperately calls out to her, begging her to break out of this life. It is only near the end when Eloise realizes that it was the world around Sandie that drove her into this corner. This is represented by the faceless ghosts of Sandie’s clients that haunt Eloise’s dreams, and the realization of those monsters leads Eloise to change the call to Sandie into a call of fury against these spirits.

Thomasin McKenzie waits as cinematographer Chung-hon Chun prepares for shooting a scene for "Last Night in Soho."

This incredibly complex narrative is presented by cinematographer Chung-hoon Chung (“Oldboy,” “The Handmaiden,” “It”) as he captures the pitch-black shadows and the red and blue neon lights that illuminate this darkness. Aside from showing this image of contrast in identity, the lights also act as a means of presenting the notion of modernity as opposed to the more natural lighting of the past. It’s even seen outside of these dreams, as Eloise and her friend John go to a Halloween party filled with neon lights and glowsticks. This heightened chaotics and rave-like atmosphere starkly contrast with the formalities that seem to be present in the traditional clubs seen in Sandie’s past.

This film also represents the continuation of Edgar Wright’s shift in filmmaking outside of his popular action comedies. Previously, he was popularized because of his iconic “Three Flavours Cornetto” trilogy (“Shaun of the Dead,” “Hot Fuzz,” “The World’s End”) and his comic book adaption of “Scott Pilgrim vs. The World.” In 2017, he would shift to an action heist film where he employed much of his fast-paced style and quick edits through “Baby Driver.” “Last Night in Soho” is new territory for Wright, as he crafts a film in the realm of horror and thriller. It easily contains the darkest and most mature themes ever explored in his filmography, but he finds ways to incorporate elements from his previous work into this new tone. Rather than be used for humor or exciting action, he uses it to develop thrills in telling these multiple plotlines and gripping mystery. These quick cuts and fast camera work to heighten the intensity of blurring the lines of reality as Eloise finds herself switching between her dream world and her reality.

Anya Taylor-Joy, Edgar Wright, and Matt Smith together behind the scenes of "Last Night in Soho."

While the coming of age drama/romance aspect of “Last Night in Soho” was nothing we have not seen before, it bookends a truly unique take on the horror genre that approaches grim themes in a visually stunning and captivating manner.

“Last Night in Soho” is available in theaters starting October 29, 2021.