Director Edgar Wright
Screenplay Edgar Wright, Krysty Wilson-Cairns
Starring Thomasin McKenzie, Anya Taylor-Joy, Matt Smith, Terence Stamp, Michael Ajao, Diana Rigg, Rita Tushingham, Synnøve Karlsen
There is almost no better feeling in the world than watching a film where it’s obvious the creators of the work have more skill than anyone else in their craft. Edgar Wright’s last non-documentary feature, Baby Driver, was the best film of 2017. This film is even better. The work stands as a character-driven period piece, a horror and a study on how the glory days of civilization looked upon the fairer sex. Wright has the ability to mix all of this into a film so entertaining, one doesn’t realize they just may have advanced as a human once they make it through the experience.
The story starts with McKenzie as Eloise “Ellie” Turner, who is a young girl about to go to fashion design school. Ellie posseses an empathetic sense that allows her to see things others do not. She is moving out from her grandmother’s house (Tushingham), who raised her after her mother committed suicide when Ellie was just seven years old. Ellie is transfixed by the music, fashion and the image of the 60’s. We feel her energetic outlook at the positivity and glamour of the time, even as she endures a horrible roommate at first.
Very quickly, she decides she needs to rent a flat on her own. She finds one in Soho by Ms. Collins (Rigg), who insists she not have boys up there past 8pm. Ellie is fine with this, because in her very first night she finds herself in a dream of Alexandria (Taylor-Joy), also known as Sandy, who is more than ready to take on the world and become a big time singer. The process of Ellie following Sandy in her dream is an astounding experience. We move back and forth between the characters interchangable via the mirror or just perspective. It’s a marvel to behold that wraps around the viewer.
Soon we see a newly inspired Ellie beginning to excel in school, despite some forces and irrespective of others. We see a cordial and handsome boy, John (Ajao) who is in the background, but is obviously enthralled with the young girl. Then there is her first roommate, Jocasta (Karlsen) who is a wretched person wearing a smile.
Soon after she witnesses Sandy’s best moment in the empty Rialto theatre in front of her agent (Smith) and the owner, Ellie’s nights of joyful dreams begin to take a darker turn. Our past experience with Ellie and her visions color our view of what she is seeing. We start to feel the horror that she feels as she witnesses Sandy’s descent into misery and worse.
From here the film takes so many skillful turns, one might as well just sit back and brace themselves for what is to come. The prospect of horror hits from so many directions, many viewers like yours truly feel a mixture of guilt and despair. We also feel Ellie’s absolute desperation to express the unexpressable. What she is seeing is not viewable by anyone else. Some people think she’s gone off the deep end. Others think she knows more than she should.
It’s tough to express adequately how many engaging risks this film takes. We are headed right where we are supposed to be, per the excellent script by Wright and Wilson-Cairns. The seamless editing and cinematography by Paul Machliss and Chung-hoon Chung, respectively, along with the incredible soundtrack compiled of strategic classic 60’s tunes and modern takes of period songs creates a web for the viewer that is impossible from which to extricate.
The two leads are astounding. We see everything McKenzie has to show us and everything that the always incredible Taylor-Joy wants to show us. There is an astounding contrast between the two leads but somehow they meet perfectly in the middle in the place where all women exist.
If this film is not a contender for all of the major awards by the end of the year, it won’t be a surprise. They normally take in the easy to digest, disposable stuff. Last Night In Soho pushes the viewer to feel a mixture of delight, terror, exhaustion and introspection. That’s not the stuff that gets awards.
This is the film of the year.
(***** out of *****)