I was left so unexpectedly cold by Edgar Wright’s Baby Driver that I spent my entire review of the film apologizing for my apathy. Surely, if I was shrugging off a stylish heist thriller with an #epicplaylist from the director of the beloved action comedies Hot Fuzz, Shawn of the Dead, and Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, the problem must’ve been with me, not with the movie. Five years later, I’m a lot more confident in shrugging off Wright’s follow-up to Baby Driver, whether that confidence is a “fool me twice” lesson learned or just a growing trust in my own tastes. A couture-culture ghost story styled to recall post-giallo Euro horrors like Suspiria & The Psychic, Edgar Wright’s latest genre exercise is tailored to appeal to my exact sensibilities. I was fully prepared to defend Last Night in Soho against its initial critical backlash (the same way I took mild delight in last year’s other maligned fashion-student thriller, Cruella). I regret to report that it’s somehow even worse than Baby Driver, despite the genre alchemy of its Italo ghosts & high-fashion setting. Its first hour is cute but a little boring; its second hour is less cute and super infuriating. Combined, they’re dull & disastrous enough to convince me to swear off all future Edgar Wright projects entirely.
Thomasin McKenzie stars as a mousy country bumpkin who enrolls in an elite London fashion school. Skeezy men creep on her from all sides, while the girls in her dorm bully her for being out of step with big-city tastes. Like in Suspiria, things get worse when she moves to an off-campus apartment to enjoy some solitude & independence, only to be haunted by the ghosts of London’s seedy past. Our troubled heroine has carefully cultivated two personality quirks that make her Not Like Other Girls: psychic abilities as a spiritual medium and an obsession with retro “Swinging 60s” kitsch. Both quirks bite her on the ass in her new apartment, where she’s transported in dreams to the 1960s, passively observing her room’s former tenant (an absurdly stylish Anya Taylor-Joy) from the frustrating safety of a mirror realm. This nocturnal time travel starts as wish fulfillment for the teenage fashionista, but it quickly turns into a bitter nostalgia check, revealing London’s supposedly glorious past to be a misogynist hellscape. The Swinging 60s Barbie of her dreams pursues a career as a nightclub singer but is manipulated into prostitution by her manager instead. Meanwhile, the CG ghosts of the singer’s long-dead johns leak out into the fashion student’s waking life, driving her past the brink of madness. As if dwelling on the grim circumstances of forced prostitution wasn’t punishment enough, the audience is then treated to an idiotic twist that reveals how the chanteuse fought back against her rapist captor & his customers, devolving into a #girlboss vigilante finale that feels shamefully regressive – even for horror.
Last Night in Soho is way too frothy to justify its gendered political provocations, especially considering their sour aftertaste. It feels like a one-off time travel tangent from a TV show with a bored writers’ room, like a trip to the Star Trek holodeck or a standard episode of Sliders. Something that superficial has no right to be this irritating, just like how a movie directed by a supposed visual stylist has no right to feature CG ghosts this anonymously bland (at best recalling the unmasked killer reveal in last year’s time-loop slasher Lucky, a film with a small fraction of this one’s budget). And the CG shards of broken mirrors look even worse. Still, Last Night in Soho does have a few core saving graces: the relatable depiction of youth as an embarrassing collection of ill-fitting hipster affectations; the inherent entertainment value of ghost story clichés; and the even more potent entertainment value of watching Anya Taylor-Joy model pretty clothes. They aren’t enough to save it from tedium & misery, but they might be enough to make it more interesting to think about & rewatch than Baby Driver, despite being the worse film. If I’m smart, I’ll do my best to not think about any Edgar Wright films ever again, as our tastes are obviously drifting further out of sync as we grow old. Then again, he recently announced he’s developing a new project with his original muse Simon Pegg, which is just enough of a draw to remind me of what I liked about his movies in the first place – like Road Runner guiding Wile E. Coyote off yet another cliff.