Anya Taylor-Joy and Matt Smith on the set of Last Night in Soho. Photo © Greg Williams for Universal Pictures

Movie Review: Last Night in Soho (2021)

By peerynt | Whizzing Tripod | 31 Oct 2021

A movie title can be something that does a job of attracting people better than any ad or poster. "Last Night in Soho" is, in my opinion, one such title. That is, if you know what Soho is, and what kind of reputation it used to have for a good part of the 20th Century. If you know that then the first thought about this film would be that it’s something in the vein of From Hell, or that it’s a giallo film made by Brits. Well, it kinda is, and it isn't. I think Last Night in Soho won't be any less interesting if you’re into giallo films, and you wouldn’t be disappointed if you were going to watch it as if it was about another Jack the Ripper type of maniacal serial killer.

I first read about Last Night in Soho on one of the social media profiles of Anya Taylor-Joy – an actress who always seem to handle her role without fail, even when there’s a lot of talking involved. A combo of a movie title like LNiS and that actress instantly made it to my “I have to watch this” list. I had seen her in all her early roles, which were horror ones: Morgan, The Witch and Split (all of them are films I can recommend as good horror flicks, and not because of ATJ being in them), so that’s one reason why LNiS was exciting news coming from her. I’ve seen the actress also in Emma and, of course, The Queen’s Gambit series, where her role was notably different from what she’d been doing earlier, i.e., these latter ones weren’t horror genre; which altogether meant she is returning to horror with a lot more experience than before. But then Covid happened, and film’s release got delayed – more than once, I believe. So getting to finally see her in LNiS did take a while.
Usually this type of excitement ends up being a disappointment because the reality has the annoying habit to defy visions in one’s imagination, but LNiS wasn’t that sort of disappointment cookie; it was a cookie allright, but not a disappointment.

The film starts off with a young Eloise, who’s dreaming of being a fashion designer. She’s dancing in a room in a house she lives in with her grandmother somewhere in Wales. Eloise’s role is played by Thomasin McKenzie, whom I remember seeing, first and foremost, in award nominated Jojo Rabbit, where I think she was brilliant, and I should add that, in my opinion, the number of awards she’d in general been nominated for, some of which she’s received, speaks for itself. But let’s get back to LNiS – at this point nothing really hints at what the film is going to be about: Eloise grieves for her mother, who back in the day has been a fashion designer herself, but had become a suicide victim; and sees the much missed parent in mirrors. Events unfold fast, and soon Eloise is already in London to make her dreams become reality, which is where I can’t help but draw some parallels with each of the two Suspiria films; especially when I see a young girl moving into dormitory, and most of the time everyone around her, apart from occasional drunk fellow with ingenious chat up lines such as “I want to bury my d*ck between your a*s cheeks” (or something to that effect) is a woman – The Triple Goddess is definitely present in LNiS.
Ok, to make this fair, there's also John, played by Michael Ajao, who's Eloise's fellow student; he helps her while being in her friend zone... Until he sort of isn't. His status is undetermined until the end of the film. To understand how and why that is the way it is, you'll have to watch LNiS.

I love when films begin with seemingly unrelated things that don’t tell what they have in store for you, and this is something LNiS is really good at; you think this is going to be about Eloise, but you’ve got another thing coming, and even when that “another thing” has already entered the scene, you still can’t be sure about what’s what because, once the LNiS team have got you under their spell, they won’t let you go easily, and the best part about it – you are going to enjoy it right to the end.
LNiS is a British art house giallo mystery trip filled with lights, music and atmosphere. It's branded as psychological horror, but I somehow tend to think of psychological horrors as ones that put focus on psyche; the way individual’s mind works and what comes out of that, or how it’s affected by events and people around them. There’s no denying in LNiS inner conflicts are present (one such memorable scene is with Eloise herself being in a mirror), and all the elements I’ve just mentioned are there, but when you compare the general structure and main points with some of the genre classics, what LNiS lacks is a disturbing journey of getting to know some seriously twisted and traumatised individual’s mind, such as John Doe’s in Se7en or Dr. Lecter’s in The Silence of the Lambs – LNiS hasn’t got a particular antagonist with a human face. Sure, there is the role Anya Taylor-Joy plays which is tied to a surprise left for the final act, but we could still argue here about the difference between psychological horror films I've just mentioned and giallo films. I see LNiS as a story about a place and a time period, its values and victims. The tints of red color, the editing, the uncertainty about what’s real and what’s not, and what’s a dream, that altogether form a sequence of someone’s life experiences is art house trip more than anything. Throw in murder scenes and mystery, and you get horror. LNiS is definitely psychoactive. But is it a psychological horror? I think it may be worthy its own tag. Edgar Wright has conducted an experiment here, which has turned out to be a classy cinematic trip, where the only thing I felt like complaining about was the sequence of rooms with addicts and sex acts – too fast and too superficial. Even with all the understanding that that’s not the film’s focus.

It’s not often that I feel like the film could have ended whichever way and I would still have enjoyed it. LNiS is that kind of film – it’s all about journey, not destination. It might be just me, but I think that kind of adventure usually has got higher success rate of ending up with an award or two. In case of LNiS I wouldn’t be surprised.

Photo with Anya Taylor-Joy and Matt Smith from the set of Last Night in Soho © Greg Williams for Universal Pictures; used here on fair use basis.

Peer Ynt

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Translator, interpreter turned small time investor and crypto enthusiast during the Covid pandemic. Areas that interest me: visual arts, writing, history; everything you see in a good horror film.

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