Thursday, December 2, 2021

In the Reels: ‘Last Night in Soho’ looks to the past

Cameron Kaercher

Edgar Wright’s cinematic debut “Shaun of the Dead,” released in 2004, predated the zombie genre explosion. The stoner layabout character played by Simon Pegg was a breakthrough role for the actor, and since then Pegg has appeared in the “Star Trek,” “Star Wars” and “Mission: Impossible” franchises. “Shaun of the Dead” is now a modern horror classic and a go-to when looking for something to watch around the Halloween season.

Wright’s latest feature moves away from the humor that established his career.

“Last Night in Soho” stars Thomasin McKenzie as Eloise, an aspiring fashion designer in modern-day London. When class is out and she is struggling to find a place to fit in, she mysteriously travels to the late 1960s. In this alternate timeline, Eloise encounters an enchanting lounge singer named Sandie, played by Anya Taylor-Joy. Their personalities start to blur together as a murder mystery starts to reveal itself.

Wright’s horror film comes with a catalogue of influences. 

The most recognizable of which are the Italian Giallo slasher films that utilize heavy neon lighting. Films like Dario Argento’s “Suspiria” and Mario Bava’s “Blood and Black Lace” are beloved for their cinematography as the bright reds and deep blues wash the screen. Cinematographer Chung Chung-hoon brings the same scheme to this film with gorgeous results. Some frames from “Soho” will end up being cell phone wallpapers soon enough.

The overall story can remind cinephiles of cinematic greats like Nicolas Roeg’s “Don’t Look Now,” or Roman Polanski’s “Repulsion,” as well as some cult favorites like “Beat Girl” from 1960. Wright’s cinephilia cannot be underestimated.

With a script co-written by Krysty Wilson-Cairns, Wright is trying to tackle a lot. At one point, the film is about the dangers of romanticizing the past. The character of Eloise is in love with the sixties as she listens to music by The Kinks and The Who. Once again, Wright has compiled a perfect soundtrack and knows to embrace the B-sides of great bands. Eloise then learns about the hardships that Sandie had to go through while trying to make it as a performer.

In this old timeline, the story explores some power dynamics in the entertainment industry that were recently brought to the forefront by the #MeToo movement. Sandie is exploited by the men in power while Eloise has to watch helplessly. This confrontation of the past is powerful, and in some ways is a realistic response to Quentin Tarantino’s “Once Upon a Time in… Hollywood.” Both films are about the entertainment industry in the 1960s, although each work has drastically different tones.

To reflect back to 2017, the year in which Edgar Wright released his last narrative feature “Baby Driver,” the #MeToo campaign really came to fruition. One of the bigger stars to be exposed at that time was Kevin Spacey, who played the antagonist in “Baby Driver.” This latest feature feels like Wright is trying to atone for his work with the alleged assaulter. It is a good thing that Wright is willing to work through these issues.

“Last Night in Soho” sees Edgar Wright becoming a more socially conscious filmmaker. As somebody whose career started with snappy action comedies, it is exciting to see the writer-director step into a new stage in his career. It may take some getting used to for fans of Wright’s earlier works, but this film is one worth checking out.

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