Leave it to Edgar Wright to play with genre expectations and deliver yet another delightfully off-kilter thriller that also thrills with its undeniably trippy atmosphere and blast to the past of swinging 60’s London. The director of films like Baby Driver, Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World, The World’s End, and of course the cult classic Shaun Of The Dead has taken the seemingly glamorous and intriguing era of the 60s in Mod London circa ’65 and turned it into an increasingly menacing and dark period, but still fueled by a killer song selection that takes us from Cilla Black to Petula Clark. It is a mix that has you in its first half longing to go back to that period in time like protagonist Eloise (Thomasin McKenzie) , but then maybe rethink that decision. Just like many of Wright’s twisty movies he doesn’t easily let the audience off the hook.
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Plotwise we meet Eloise living with Granny (60’s icon Rita Tushingham) but itching to follow her dreams of being a fashion designer in the big city of London. This is a girl from right now, but obsessed with the swinging 60’s in London, someone who would rather be Julie Christie than anyone, and whose walls are adorned with posters from Breakfast At Tiffany’s and Sweet Charity, plus more from that decade. Although Granny once made a similar trip to London with her daughter- Eloise’s mother who later committed suicide – she warns that the city can be deceptively dangerous with some very bad people. Eloise however cannot be deterred and takes off to school to follow her dreams. Unfortunately she runs smack into the mean girls crowd, particularly Jocasta (Synnove Karlsen) and her gang who knock the new girl and her dreams, as well as mod designs, at every turn. On top of that her roommate is having sex every night, oblivious to the presence of Eloise who moves out when she answers an ad for a supposedly quite apartment away from campus.
Meeting the landlady, Ms Collins (the late great Diana Rigg) she moves in, but strange things happen almost immediately and she is bizarrely transported through a portal into London circa 1965. A big theatre playing Thunderball confirms the period instantly. But Eloise, not only finds fashion design inspiration but soon finds her life intertwined with that of Mod-styled Sandie (Anya Taylor -Joy) , a wannabe club singer who lands in a romance with handsome Jack (Matt Smith).
What seems an idyllic romp with music ranging from “Downtown” to “You’re My World” and other iconic 60’s hits takes unexpected turns. Eloise keeps waking up at the alarm each morning, an indicator this is all a dream. But as it goes on it is also all too real – or so it seems as the swinging 60’s sends Eloise spinning as tt were. Wright has asked all Venice audiences to keep specific plot details a secret, and that’s a good idea so we will leave it at that for the most part except to note a mysterioius stranger played by another 60’s icon Terence Stamp sends ominous signals, and Eloise, who by now has dyed her hair blonde for a Julie Christie “Darling” style look which is really cool, especially since I just coincidentally watched Darling again three weeks ago and have an Eloise-like obsession with the 60’s as well. Next up on my own 60’sscreening list: Georgy Girl. Why not? Last Night In Soho is pure Wright all the way, and it works to a startlingly successful degree. No more shall be said. except that nights in Soho are not all they are cracked up to be, even with the sounds of the 60’s British Invasion playing in the background.
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. Plus 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.
McKenzie makes the most of this full blown starring role, well out of whack with what we have seen her do to date, and brings it home. Taylor-Joy is a perfect counterpart to Eloise. Smith is properly gangsteristic, and there is nice guy John (Michael Ajao), a fellow design student, who falls for Eloise and tries to bring her out of the 60’s mindbending trip she is on., even as she drifts further down into the rabbit hole. Good news for Edgar Wright fans, because he is really on his game here.
What is also joyful is the casting of some treasured veterans of the era starting with the late Diana Rigg (that’s right, Emma Peel herself) who gets a major role here and socks it home for what sadly is her final screen appearance. She’s terrific, and a dedication at the beginning of the film elegantly states: “For Diana”. It is also great to see Tushingham and Stamp put to good use in their senior years. There is also a lovely hommage to Cilla Black and Petula Clark, icons of a bygone era Wright brings back to life . Wright clearly knows what he is doing, has affection for the 60’s , but also knows nothing is uncomplicated. I dug this movie.
Producers are Nira Park, Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, and Wright. Focus Features opens the film on Oct. 29 just in time for Halloween. What Wright has wrought is definitely a neat trick and a cool treat. It had its world premiere today at the Venice Film Festival,