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Like 2011's Midnight in Paris, Last Night in Soho — the latest effort from writer-director Edgar Wright — is fixated on the dangers of powerful nostalgia. They say you shouldn't meet your heroes, but there doesn't seem to be a similar warning for those individuals who like to romanticize a specific period of time.
Soho, which premiered at the Venice Film Festival this weekend, follows Eloise, a young fashion student (played by Old's Thomasin McKenzie) with a strong affinity for '60s-era London. Her overpowering wish to visit the bygone era of beehive hairstyles, psychedelic music, and Sean Connery's James Bond mysteriously comes true when she's transported back in time and into the life of a wannabe singer by the name of Sandie (The New Mutants' Anya Taylor-Joy).
This dream come true soon transforms into a waking nightmare when the lines of reality begin to blur and Eloise finds herself at the heart of a decades-old mystery that threatens to derail her own existence in the present. The colorful and neon-soaked cinematography of Chung-hoon Chung (DP of Lucasfilm's upcoming Obi-Wan Kenobi Star Wars series) wraps up the whole package in a splashy bow that recalls the giallo horror films of the 1960s and '70s.
All of it adds up to a "half-brilliant fever dream," according to Stephanie Zacharek's review over at Time. "To reveal too much of Last Night in Soho would be unfair to the movie and to anyone who’s eager to see it. But at a certain point, the plot becomes disappointingly unwieldy; by the end, it has cracked into dozens of irreconcilable pieces, turning us against characters we want to sympathize with and trying to draw out sympathy for others who don’t deserve it."
Variety's Owen Gleiberman praises the film's use of period-specific music to evoke a spine-tingling atmosphere before describing the overall product as a "surprising misfire" that is "all the more disappointing for being made with such palpable care and conviction." The review continues: "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."
Pete Hammond also singles out the music in their Deadline review: "The splendid soundtrack mixing 60’s classics from the period with current musical motifs provided by frequent Wright composer Steven Price, make this the best sounding film of the year."
David Rooney of The Hollywood Reporter highlights Wright's uncanny talent for "shaking rhythms and visual textures to keep the senses stimulated beyond basic narrative engagement." His use of music, editing, and snappy dialogue are what have elevated his previous features (like the "Cornetto" trilogy, Scott Pilgrim, and Baby Driver) to the status of modern classics.
"Last Night in Soho is an immensely pleasurable film that delights in playing with genre, morphing from time-travel fantasy to dark fairy tale, from mystery to nightmarish horror in a climax that owes as much to ’60s Brit fright fare as to more contemporary mind-benders," adds Rooney.
Hammond writes something similar: "The director never lets the energy wane for a minute, and we become invested lock, stock and barrel in Eloise and her predicament. The director is very well aware we can get sucked into the cool of it all, ignoring the danger and darkness until it finally catches up to us. Eloise thinks she was born for the 60’s, but Wright has other ideas and it is the blend of this very specific atmosphere, with the realities we are used to these days that make this hybrid thriller work as well as it does. A more vibrant and exciting addition to the genre would be hard to find."
/FILM's Marshall Shaffer declares that Wright is riffing on his tried and true formula here — even if it "might lack some of the polish and pizzaz that made the director shoot to cult stardom." Shaffer adds that Soho is "undeniably exciting and encouraging to see Wright taking a calculated risk away from his established brand ... Last Night in Soho, with all its warts and wonders, shows you can teach an old dog some new tricks. Wright shows he still hasn't hit his ceiling as a filmmaker, but's heartening to see him stretch and reach rather than just keeping his artistic ambitions planted on the floor."
Nicholas Barber awards the title an A- in their review for IndieWire, writing: "Wright and his team produce a marvelous recreation — not as the groovy, brightly colored shopping destination, but as an overwhelming, neon-lit playground of thrillingly sleazy nightlife ... Last Night In Soho twists and turns between being a perky sitcom about the hassles of student life to a rollicking time-travel romance to a full-on horror movie. And I do mean full-on."
In addition to recreating the 1960s, Wright also cast a number of actors who started to make names for themselves during that decade. Diana Rigg, Terence Stamp, Rita Tushingham, and Margaret Nolan all make appearances in Soho, but as Xan Brooks of The Guardian points out, Rigg and Nolan are no longer with us (having passed away since the project wrapped).
This, Brooks writes, adds "an in-built note of poignancy in that it arrives at a time when the cherished 60s poster children — those cocksure angels of the future — are beginning to slip one-by-one off the map ... Time, in other words, marches on. Wright’s film struts into its premiere at this year’s Venice film festival glossy with new life, still warm from the editing suite and already looking like something of a relic itself."
Neil Smith of Total Film asserts that "it's the young stars who emerge as the movie’s strongest suit, Taylor-Joy bringing supermodel confidence to her showgirl role and McKenzie lending a touching fragility to the director’s first female lead. Elsewhere, Matt Smith gives Sandie’s manager-slash-lover a raffish charm that becomes progressively more menacing as his true colors are revealed, while Michael Ajao is amusingly gauche as the fellow student who becomes Ellie’s lovestruck ally."
Co-written by Wright and the Oscar-nominated Krysty Wilson-Cairns’ (1917), Last Night in Soho will do The Twist and the Mashed Potato in theaters everywhere Friday, Oct. 29. As of this writing, the movie holds a score of 73 percent on Rotten Tomatoes (while still fresh, it's the lowest score of any title Wright has directed so far).