Taking the “born in the wrong generation,” shtick and pastiche to a completely new and horrifying level, Last Night in Soho bears the brunt of pigeon-holed nostalgia paired with the underwhelming static of the modern horror genre. Reigniting some fire into that genre is a near-lost cause. Edgar Wright may have a firm hand in that style, always using it one way or another in his films, but never focusing on it all that much. Shaun of the Dead had typical horror elements lying dormant under the barrage of laughter, and Hot Fuzz had the terrifying pretence that small English towns were fuelled by murder and funnelled that raw aggression into winning small-town prizes. None of that features in Last Night in Soho, a more streamlined look at the horror genre with a desire to replicate the period without crossing into a full parody of it. Wright and Thomasin McKenzie are well-meaning in their efforts here.
McKenzie’s performance is a stellar one, overshadowed by the horror that engulfs her. That 60s obsessed iconography flows through with a rather obnoxious vividity. A Breakfast at Tiffany’s poster with McKenzie posing as Hepburn on the front is more than enough to knock the love into the era. But profiling The Kinks and all those 1960s singers with that style that Wright often provides with his quick-cut editing to disguise monotony is too little for the overhaul of the culture. He even takes purchase in those of that generation, with Diana Rigg and Terence Stamp filtering through in some decent supporting roles. There is a difference between riffing on the timescale and consciously subsuming it into the threads as unnecessarily and frequently as possible. Wright stumbles to and fro, with some exciting results throughout.
Most of them are in the McKenzie portion of the feature. Where Matt Smith and Anya Taylor-Joy are superb performers, but McKenzie, Rigg and Stamp have a better run of opportunities. Smith and Taylor-Joy spend most of their time in the 1960s, with the inevitable blurring of the two realities coming through later in the film. That is handled far better than first expected. Ominous ghosts and paranormal chase scenes are refined with real quality, all played off as neuroses and psychotic visions that only Eloise (McKenzie) can see. They all depend on the performances around them. How well the horror is displayed and provided is all down to how convincing the lead is. Twists and turns throughout that don’t make much sense keep the narrative flowing well enough, an entertaining but forgettable feature.
Vacuous nothings in the university halls and lining the walls with a culture you never experienced, Last Night in Soho has some quieter observations that shine through far better than the horror at the heart of it. It is about drive and passion in the face of uncovering dark secrets and realising you’re not where you want to be. A bit snotty at times, the real letdown of Last Night in Soho is the horror of it. It’d work better as a drama muddling through the world of fashion. There are smart moments within, but none of that comes from the walk on the wild side of 1960s culture. Most, if not all of it, comes from McKenzie’s stellar work and even then, it is a bit mystifying and strange. The script calls for an airy and affable hero, yet her character neither changes nor develops. Closure without growth is what Last Night in Soho offers.