Edgar Wright contains multitudes. The British writer-director has built a pretty fascinating filmography over the past decade-and-a-half, zigzagging his way from his so-called Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy (that’s Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz and The World’s End) to Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, Baby Driver and this year’s exhaustive The Sparks Brothers documentary. With the brand-new Last Night in Soho, which he co-wrote with 1917 screenwriter Krysty Wilson-Cairns, Wright journeys into the realm of psychological horror, marrying the titular London entertainment district’s contemporary version with the more free-spirited — and more dangerous — Soho of yesteryear.

Last Night in Soho does this through the eyes of Thomasin McKenzie’s Ellie, a 1960s-obsessed modern-day country mouse who earns admission to the University of the Arts London’s College of Fashion. Ellie just so happens to have a sort of vaguely defined sixth sense. She can see dead people. Or anyway, she can see her dead mother — who died by suicide when Ellie was just 7 years old — staring at her wordlessly over Ellie’s shoulder when she looks in the mirror.

She’s a fish out of water in London, and aside from the advances she receives from a handsome and extremely persistent young man named John (Michael Ajao) who breezes right past her myriad red flags, Ellie isn’t treated kindly by her fellow fashion students. So she moves out of the dorms and into a nearby one-room apartment managed by the dour and prickly Miss Collins, played by onetime Bond girl Diana Rigg in her final performance before her 2020 death. But there’s something peculiar about this apartment — a paranormal imprint left by former resident Sandie (Anya Taylor-Joy). Sandie was an aspiring singer five-plus decades back, and each night when Ellie sleeps, she finds herself inhabiting Sandie’s body as she tries to make it as a performer in the neon bustle of Swinging ’60s Soho.

Wright & Co. obviously had fun with their mirror-centric dream-sequence trick shots and retro, technicolor production design. It’s a visual feast rife with primo music cues (The Kinks! The Searchers! Dusty Springfield!), and while there are of course shades of master suspense-builders like Hitchcock and Polanski, the plot itself is a relatively original one. In a landscape littered with recycled IP, countless sequels and ballooning cinematic universes, that alone is refreshing. As we watch through Ellie’s eyes, Sandie’s dreams buckle under the weight of Soho’s seedier elements, personified most directly by scummy manager-slash-pimp Jack, who’s portrayed by strikingly visaged former Dr. Who Matt Smith. The tension mounts as the past and present hew ever closer to one another, and Ellie — played with increasingly frantic energy by the lively and talented McKenzie — must discover what became of the glamorous Sandie.

Even so, there isn’t a great deal of depth to Soho’s first two acts. Psychological horror films so often spend their first 90 minutes leading us down one path, only to spend the final 30 undoing all of our expectations. In that regard, Wright and Wilson-Cairns manage to keep their denouement compelling. Clever creepy imagery abounds, but things get awfully convoluted as the film seeks to tie up all of its loose threads. Ultimately all of our questions about Sandie are answered, but none of the answers are quite as interesting as Soho’s sights, sounds and performances.

Bright and energetic and unique, Last Night in Soho is a good film. But it isn’t a great one, and Edgar Wright most definitely has more great films in him.

Like what you read?

Click here to make a contribution to the Scene and support local journalism!