Tuesday, 23 November 2021

Last Night In Soho

Puppet On A Sting

Last Night In Soho
UK 2021
Directed by Edgar Wright
Universal Pictures

Warning: I guess this has some mild spoilers.

Trust modern wonder director Edgar Wright to make a movie which transcends initial expectations of what it actually is... perhaps an homage to 1960s British horror, Italian giallo etc... and deliver something which actually only nods to those kinds of movie more as an acknowledgement... instead bringing something fairly new (although not strictly too far out of the box) into the mix. Last Night In Soho is probably not the film most people may expect it to be and although some of those touchstones are in here... there are certainly elements of a ‘Dario Argento Meets Mario Bava’ influence in both the lighting (which is even given an on screen rationale in terms of a character’s bedroom window in proximity to a flashing neon sign) and odd half winks to their various movies (are the mannequins in one shot juxtaposed to the previous a little nod to Bava’s Blood And Black Lace... reviewed here... for example?)... this one is so much more than the sum of any stylistic parts and very much its own thing.

Now, I have to admit, it took me about 25 mins to get into this one and I’d have to say, my first impressions of the central character were quite bad. For a little while, the way sixties obsessed main protagonist Eloise (played brilliantly by Thomasin McKenzie) was written, in terms of her dialogue... well I was having a hard time liking the character for a bit. However, she did grow on me fairly quickly once she leaves her grandmother’s house (her grandmother played by wonderful 1960s icon Rita Tushingham) to come to London to the famous London College Of Fashion (I think I went there to use their library once when I studied Graphic Design at the London College Of Printing back in the day). It probably helped that the majority of her fellow students are just really horrible and so she seems way better than them anyway and, I soon got used to the naivete of the character to the point where she became the reason why I was watching.

It’s pointed out very early on in the movie that Eloise is one of those people who can feel and see psychic/spiritual vibrations from objects and things quite vividly and, when she rents a room off of a landlady played by another 1960s icon, Diana Rigg, she starts tripping back to the past in her dreams and becomes Sandie, played by the always watchable Anya Taylor-Joy, as she tries to be a to singer emerging from the Soho scene in 1965. However, Sandie falls in with a ‘manager’ played by Matt Smith and things don’t go exactly as she planned. Meanwhile, back in the present day reality, Eloise starts to pick up on people and things from the sixties Soho of her dream life and starts to unravel a long standing mystery leading to a darkness at the heart of Sandie’s world... while fighting for her own life as the dreamworld she has let in begins to splinter into her day to day reality and take her mind.

Okay, so I really can’t say anymore about the story because, a) it will spoil it and b) you’ll probably work out most of the twists and turns a fair bit before the film gets you there. The film is obviously referencing the 1960s a lot and includes another couple of iconic performers of the time... these being Terence Stamp and Margaret Nolan (both she and Rigg have dedications on the film... one before it starts and one after it’s finished, I think this was both of these two actresses last movie role and it’s a shame neither of them lived to see how well the film has been received by the critics). However, the one way this film disappointed me slightly was by telegraphing (despite some obvious misdirection on the part of one of the male leads) the true identity of two of the characters and their actual relation to Eloise’s dream adventures.

And, after my initial reluctance to follow the central character which, as I said, was soon overcome, I have to say I found the film to not only be a tight and technological marvel in terms of the art of putting together something like this but also a thoroughly entertaining romp too. If horror is your bag (which this film plays on the periphery of but, due to the ‘visions’ experienced by the central protagonist, it certainly gets there in terms of slipping into that genre pretty well by the end) then you will probably have a good time with this although, I have to say, it’s a very slow burn of a movie which really doesn’t push any of those buttons until a good way through, when things begin to emerge and bleed over from both worlds. That being said, it doesn’t take long before some really beautiful and stunning non-horror set pieces are visited on the audience. Such as the first introduction to Eloise’s dream world as the character watches bewildered, becoming the mirror image of Anya Taylor-Joy and vice versa.

 And, yes, I’d like to say ‘it’s all done with mirrors’ but there looks like there was some clever, practical stuff which was done ‘in camera’ here to use the actresses mirroring each other to both interact with the same co-star at the same time and so on. What’s more, the ways those actresses both reflect and then sometimes not, as they watch each other, shows a real intelligence from, not just the performers but from the way Wright has obviously worked out that you can enhance a scene by using the actions and expressions of each of the two female leads to add a commentary to the events they are caught up in. I was very impressed, for example, when McKenzie apes Taylor-Joy for part of a scene but then is left surprised or doing her own thing as the character splits away from her to fill her in on what may, or may not, be somebody’s back story. Not to mention the technical brilliance (and timing) of the scene where Matt Smith dances with both girls simultaneously by swinging each of them around the camera to transform into the next person and then back again... I expect it took a fair few rehearsals to get right and it certainly wears its trickery on its sleeve but it doesn’t make it any less impressive and well timed, for sure.

And, of course, there’s a sonic backdrop of old 1960s hits such as two of my favourite Sandie Shaw songs... Puppet On A String and (There’s) Always Something There To Remind Me... to get the nostalgia receptors engaged and even, in one sequence, an actress playing a young Cilla Black (what a shame that Work Is A Four Letter Word never made it onto the songtrack, to revive interest in both the song and the movie). The film really hits a nice groove and I’m sure a lot of the younger audience will be discovering the ‘sounds of the sixties’ on the back of this movie, for sure... if Wright can hook them on it. I’m not sure its box office has been all that it could be (well... we are still in a pandemic) but I’m sure this is going to do very well on Blu Ray sales and I, for one, can’t wait to grab a copy of this one to show my folks.

So, yeah, that’s me done on Last Night In Soho. It’s a lot of fun and it looks absolutely beautiful. The twist reveals, such as they are, are maybe not too cleverly done (you probably will be ahead of them) but it really doesn’t hurt the film any because they are also inevitable points that the film needs to hit and it all gives some of the nightmarish, Roman Polanski inspired (surely there’s a little bit of Repulsion in here?) supernatural dream vibrations a good sound logical reading within the context of the story and especially the characters as they are represented later. I’m also pretty sure that, now I’ve processed the content of the film a little bit, I am going to really enjoy watching the heck out of it on subsequent viewings... I reckon this is one of those ‘fine wine’ kind of films that get better with age and familiarity once you start noticing the accumulation of details which you missed the first time around. This is definitely one for fans of spectacular and well crafted cinema, for sure.

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