Review: "Last Night in Soho"
Written by Julia Brukx
October 28, 2021
I've always thought it a bit narcissistic when people say they felt "seen" by a movie. Clearly, the director intended for you to relate to the main characters, why else would you want to root for them for the entirety of the runtime? A movie with unrelatable characters would fail to draw in the audience, and thus it is the first rule that they tell you when you enter film school: your audience will follow good characters through a bad plot, but they will not stand for bad characters, no matter how good the plot. All that being said, when Thomasin McKenzie danced onto the screen, entering the big city on her own, incredibly awkward and unable to fit in, obsessed with the 1960s wearing clothes that she made, I felt uncomfortably seen.
Last Night in Soho, the latest by director Edgar Wright, is a film about what it means to be a woman alone. Eloise Turner (Thomasin McKenzie) arrives in London to study fashion, and quickly finds that she doesn't quite fit in among her peers. She decides that she needs to move out, and finds a place on her own, where she begins to have dreams of Sandy (Anya Taylor-Joy), a young, beautiful, fashionable woman in 1960s London who dreams of being a singer. Eloise is completely infatuated, as we all would be. Sandy strolls onto the screen and dances through a nightclub in a beautiful dress, and kindly doesn't take any shit from any men. She knows who she is and why she's there, and I know if I had been watching at home my mom would've leaned over and whispered, "she's awesome."
Eloise spends her dreams following around, and sometimes inhabiting, Sandy and her exploits in south London as they quickly turn to nightmares, and Eloise becomes embroiled in horrors spanning her own timeline and Sandy's of 60 years prior. At the center of the movie is the bond between Sandy and Eloise as Eloise becomes obsessed with Sandy and tries to protect her, seeing too much of herself or who she'd like to be in the ambitious young woman. The film would not work if not for the performances of Thomasin McKenzie and Anya Taylor-Joy in their respective roles. McKenzie's soft and nervous voice, a Hepburn-esque impression, unsettles deeply when it screams, and Taylor-Joy's huge eyes, turning just slightly to look at the camera, call for help in a way louder and more terrifying than any yell could be.
Of course, as the film argues, as a woman you're never really alone. There will always be a sort of bond between you and other women, whether it's ambition, that shared support, a fierce competition, a sense of protection, or that shared, underlying trauma that can be felt by a single knowing glance. When Eloise first arrives in London, a taxi driver begins to make uncomfortable threatening comments and the heart of the audience drops, blood running cold. Everyone knows that kind of trapped terror, and we are immediately placed in a position where we want to dive in front of and protect Eloise, and thus are positioned in the same headspace that she feels towards Sandy.
And there's another reason a woman is never truly alone, and that is the pair of eyes in the corner, the belt unclicking and the hand grabbing the wrist. The man, the voyeur, who is always going to be there. No matter how smart, how ambitious, how quick or how confident you are he will always be there, and you will never be alone. The movie is a horror, make no mistake, rife with ghosts and monsters and jump scares which repeatedly yanked my hand over my mouth, but that man was always going to be the real terror. As Eloise falls deeper into Sandy's mystery, she comes face to face with this monstrous man, and realizes that it's actually far larger and more horrifying than she could've imagined.
The movie doesn't pass the reverse Bechdel test. The Bechdel Test is a measure of representation of women in movies created by Alison Bechdel, which states that in order to pass, a film must have two named female characters and they must have a conversation with each other about something other than a man. There is no point in this movie where two men talk about anything other than a woman. In fact, the only conversation—if you could even call it that, it is barely two lines exchanged—that doesn't include a woman is a defense of Sandy's character, made by a man who pointedly did not respond when he first was insulted, lest there be anything in the film that did not center around her.
The casting of the men in this movie is decidedly genius. They are familiar faces to those of us who were nerds in middle and high school: Matt Smith, for any of us who were obsessed with Doctor Who only for the cuteness of the eleventh doctor; Sam Claflin, for those of us who watched the Hunger Games and couldn't find a place on either Team Peeta or Team Gale but fell squarely onto Team Finnick; and a brief cameo by the Phelps twins, for those of us who still turn on Harry Potter whenever it rains. Promising Young Woman, a film which no doubt will be brought up repeatedly in the coming discussions of this movie, cast comedians to play its men, a move that is devilishly smart for reasons spoilers prevent me from divulging, and Soho cast the comfortable heartthrobs of teenage girlhood.
The film is incredibly stylized, with moments of theatricality which rival La La Land, and editing that sometimes acts as it's simply showing off what it can do. The costumes are incredible, and if I didn't already have about five Halloweekend outfits picked out I'd surely be searching far and wide for a big thing of pink tulle right now.
Edgar Wright is an auteur director known for films such as Scott Pilgrim vs. the World and Baby Driver, and in Soho he has managed to create a movie for all the audiences looking to return to theaters: those mesmerized by the stylized edges to which film can stretch, those intent on a long discussion about what it means to be a woman, and those simply looking for a quick fright in late October.