Edgar Wright (“Baby Driver”), who humorously sends up genres from zombies to buddy cops, now takes on the British 1960s in “Last Night in Soho.” The film is nostalgic, colorful and compelling, highlighted by fine lead performances even if it sways a bit too much at times into conventional Halloween fare.
Ellie (Thomasin McKenzie) is a young aspiring fashion designer in Cornwall, England, who lives with her grandmother (Rita Tushingham) in a spare cottage. The film begins as a quasi-tribute to the “kitchen sink” realism films like “A Taste of Honey” (as a young actor, Tushingham was the star of that film) and “Tea and Sympathy.” Both of these are British working class films and here they are re-imagined. From the start, women are central and paramount, men are nowhere to be seen. Ellie’s room is covered with Audrey Hepburn and Petula Clark posters. Its 2021 but she largely ignores the millennial life of smartphones and Twitter.
Her mother, who died by suicide, is very much within her.
She gets accepted to the premier fashion college in London.
Ellie rents a room from the strict and somber Peggy (Diana Rigg). The first night she plunges into a 1960s dream witnessing a beautiful young girl Sandie (Anya Taylor-Joy) becoming enthralled and manipulated by the sinister Jack (Matt Smith). Ellie promptly leaves to get a room in a cheap hotel. The visions gradually worsen.
Ellie is obsessed by a pink chiffon dress. She excels at school but she becomes a nervous wreck, always seeing a formidable man (Terrence Stamp) who slinks about as if he is a reptile. Ellie is fearful of the man, mirroring Sandie’s intimidating feelings for Jack.
Ellie dyes her hair and wears it in Sandie’s style. This claustrophobic progression recalls the films “Repulsion,” “The Tenant” and “Vertigo.”
The cinematography and visual expression in the film is masterful and a delight to see. The color red in particular recalls the filmmaking of Brian DePalma while the tension expressed is very much in the mode of Catherine Deneuve in the aforementioned “Repulsion.” Such sequences are wonderful and quite entertaining.
Terrence Stamp and Diana Rigg all deliver solidly to creepy affect. The film’s final movements though are less effective, because too much is revealed and explained. By the time we see the first faceless goblin and guttural roar, one can feel bogged down by too much mayhem. This is Night of the Living Males.
Though the Soho roaming leads to Romero, the cinematic suspense in three quarters of the film is terrific with McKenzie and Taylor-Joy giving all the dread you could want.
This is an “Angry Young Man” story reimagined for a young woman, and the apprehensive progression of a Polanski film is retooled here to give the virulent male ego its just desserts.
Write Ian at firstname.lastname@example.org