“Y’know the thing about a shark, he’s got…lifeless eyes, black eyes, like a doll’s eyes.” – Jaws 
Edgar Wright is something of a household name amongst modern film fans these days. The director of the delectable “Cornetto Trilogy,” a film about a charming asshole named Scott Pilgrim, and the absolute banger Baby Driver has delved into straight horror with his latest effort. His renown for perfect editing, gorgeous visual design, and soundtracks that could rival those of Quentin Tarantino has been brought to bear with the nostalgia of 60s London and I’m sadly quite whelmed.
Last Night in Soho is aptly as extra as the art scene memories that still leak out of history books and memoirs. Eloise Turner (Thomasin McKenzie) has just moved to London with dreams of becoming a fashion designer. After a night of no sleep due to the inconsiderate actions of her roommate, Jocasta (Synnøve Karlsen), she moves into a walkup owned by the crotchety Mrs. Collins (Diana Rigg) and begins to experience visions of the past. See, Eloise is a medium that sometimes experiences contact with spirits. When she starts to follow Sandie (Anya Taylor-Joy) through the 60s, she witnesses the young woman’s dreams of stardom be dashed as she recognizes the truth about her new beau, Jack (Matt Smith). As Eloise begins to suspect the silver-haired gentleman (Terence Stamp) in the bar she works at, things begin to spiral out of control and Eloise finds that she must unravel the mystery or lose her sanity.
Right off the bat I just need to say that I’m glad someone learned how to properly use Matt Smith. The man is a charismatic mixture of boyish charm and unsettling wisdom, and Wright has managed to wrangle this into a character that is the human equivalent of a shark; human, but with black dolls eyes that convey no warmth or emotion. His stint on Doctor Who is hailed as one of the modern greats, but here I think he turns in a performance that can rival his work in Ryan Gosling’s Lost River in terms of eerie focus.
It’s a great contrast to the female leads, particularly our heroine Thomasin McKenzie, who many will know from Jojo Rabbit. The young woman has grown into a fine actress, youthful but out of time in a way that makes her perfect for a ghostly time displacement plot. Her constant mixture of anxiety and ambition is a charming one, and it is the type of thing that could launch a performer to stardom. It’s up next to Anya Taylor-Joy, whom we all know from such things as The VVitch and The Queen’s Gambit. Her star is high in the sky, and her unique appearance and wealth of talent are purposefully underutilized in a role that manages to be charming, but in a way that has few moments to shine. McKenzie is our true lead and she dominates the film, but Taylor-Joy manages to sneak some wonderful stuff in here and there and it feels more than deliberate – it feels calculated.
So why, then, do I not love this? It’s a question I wish I didn’t have solid answers for, but the script winds up being the unfortunate culprit in this situation. Wright is usually more focused, but here he’s lost in his visuals and leaves the characters up to the performances. The actors all work in spades (Diana Rigg is an absolute dream), but the roles they live in are a mixture of undercooked and burnt. Eloise has so many things going on, and they not only detract from her dreamy ghost story but have almost nothing to do with it in any way that matters when the credits roll. The rest of the characters are underwritten, saved only by the individuals portraying them and not all successfully.
I waited almost a year from its original release date for Last Night in Soho to finally drop in theatres, but the final product could have benefitted from some time in the editing bay. Some films took time to streamline themselves when pushed back, but Last Night in Soho took a different turn and it’s delivered a film that’s thankfully more entertaining than it is disappointing. I enjoyed myself, but there’s too much here for the film to wholly succeed.
Last Night in Soho hits theatres on October 29th.