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#TIFF21 Review: Last Night in Soho (Gala Presentations)

September 13, 2021

By John Corrado

★★★½ (out of 4)

Nostalgia and ghosts of the past collide in Edgar Wright’s Last Night in Soho, the British filmmaker’s very dark, stylish, and gloriously entertaining tribute to both London in the Swinging Sixties and Italian giallo films. This fondness for the past is represented through the movie’s heroine, Eloise (Thomasin McKenzie), an aspiring fashion designer from Cornwall who is obsessed with the music, clothes and culture of the 1960s.

Ellie, as she likes to be called, moves to London to study fashion design, but instantly finds herself out of place in the modern culture. Bullied by her snobby roommate Jocasta (Sunnove Karlsen) and her mean girl friends, Ellie rents her own room from an elderly lady (the late Diana Rigg) in Soho. But when she falls asleep in the old bed, Ellie wakes up in the 1960s, in the body of an aspiring singer named Sandy (Anya Taylor-Joy). Ellie starts living a double life between past and present, dream and reality, with her own life getting caught up in the plight of Sandy and her sleazy manager Jack (Matt Smith).

It’s a clever twist on the dream-turned-nightmare premise, and McKenzie and Taylor-Joy are both excellent in their roles. McKenzie is captivating as an innocent ingenue out of her element in modern times, while also doing a very good job of portraying the psychological toll of the trauma that her character is forced to experience, with people assuming she is just going crazy due to a family history of mental illness. Taylor-Joy has the elegance and mysteriousness of a Hitchcock blonde, and Wright also gives a juicy part to former Bond Girl Rigg, in what ended up being her final role.

Wright, a filmmaker known for blending genres, mixes elements of mystery, psychological thriller and full-on horror movie in Last Night in Soho, with Nicholas Roeg’s Don’t Look Now serving as a clear inspiration. While it is still laced with Wright’s cheeky humour and often has a funhouse ride feel to it, there is also a level of paranoia to the story that takes hold as it goes along, touching on dark themes of mental illness and sexual assault trauma. I think this is where it will alienate some viewers.

The film itself is a visual delight, and despite the disturbing nature of some of the material, it offers many purely sensory pleasures. Chung-hoon Chung’s cinematography is quite stylish, including some memorable uses of lighting. We are also treated to some solid special effects, including very effective moments of movie magic when Eloise and Sandy see each other’s reflections in mirrors or seemingly switch places right in front of our eyes while being spun around on the dance floor.

The editing by Paul Machliss, who also cut Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, The World’s End and Baby Driver for Wright, is expectedly snappy and keeps the film moving at a breakneck pace. This is matched by an excellent soundtrack of songs from the era that Eloise looks back on. While not as pronounced as in Wright’s Baby Driver, the music does set the pace for the action, with some very well timed needle drops.

The screenplay, which was co-written by Wright and Krysty Wilson-Cairns, takes us through a number of twists and turns, with the plot clicking into place like a jigsaw puzzle. Once the film kicks into high gear it just keeps going and never lets up, with a last act that delivers in terms of gore and scares. But the film also has something to say about nostalgia, and how maybe the times we look back to had their share of problems too. It’s a wild ride, and one that I immensely enjoyed taking.

Public Screenings:

Friday, September 10th – 9:00 PM at Roy Thomson Hall

Thursday, September 16th – 6:00 PM at VISA Screening Room at the Princess of Wales

The 2021 Toronto International Film Festival runs from September 9th to 18th.

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