Imperfect tension and past participants

Will Ferris
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Last Night in Soho (18, 97 Minutes)

Edgar Wright doesn’t seem to ground his career to one location. One minute you’re in the idyllic countryside home of a cult, then the fast criminal streets of Atlanta, and now we find ourselves down the back alleys of ghostly Soho.

For those who don’t know the city well, or are just totally oblivious to the world outside their village, Soho is a district in the west end of London fondly considered the home of entertainment and, in parish churches around the country for decades, naughty sin.

Now, Wright delivers a piece that should theoretically be an episode of The Twilight Zone that’s hard to decipher as a love or hate letter.

Eloise “Ellie” (Thomasin McKenzie) is a quiet student who gives up a life of fields and cows for the bright lights of London, as so many of us do. Her obsessive love of the city is outdated and one of sheer fantasy, basing her dreams more upon the swinging sixties than the harsh realities of what London looks like today.

She’s immediately met with disappointment, and the seedy streets mixed with claustrophobic uni life becomes a bit too much for this country bumpkin. “London’s not for everyone” her Nanna warns her, futile an effort as it is.

But when Ellie takes a room in the rickety old house of Ms. Collins (Dame Diana Rigg) on Goodge Street (not Soho), she dreams of her magical sixties, and finds herself mirroring the footsteps of feisty stunner Sandie (Anya Taylor-Joy), a wannabe singer chained by her boyfriend/manager Jack (Matt Smith).

But these dreams take a bitter turn and soon Ellie becomes trapped in an endless nightmare breaking into reality.

This is a great story. Funny, quirky and, in some places, pretty creepy. Exploring the darkness of this part of London is a fun concept and one that would work well if Wright had chosen to take a few more risks.

There’s so much to see, from the unique people to the dingy underground bars, and yet we only seem to find ourselves in one shop, one club and one Irish pub leading up to Soho square. It’s a shame.

A big part of this film seems to be Ellie experiencing the freedoms of adult life in what feels to her like a new world. Her love for the city is one of fantasy, class and splendour. If that’s her idea of Soho, she’s got a big shock coming when she’s steaming drunk, stumbling face first into a puddle of pee or being chased down Old Compton Street by a rusty skinned hag demanding you give her “business” for smack.

What’s important is that this is a very watchable film. It’s endearing and intriguing in all the right places. Funny at the best of times. But is it scary? The fear factor didn’t exactly stand out, but there are certainly moments of suspense.

There are two positive takeaways from this – Anya Taylor-Joy is a sensational actress, and the visuals are a feast for the eyes.

Less than impressive is the lack of chemistry between Ellie and her “boyfriend” John (Michael Ajao). Sorry, but it’s laughable and creepier than the actual horror elements.

For Diana Rigg, it’s a wonderful last performance and a fitting closure to her legacy.

A filmmaker should know what their film is about, but it seems like Wright hasn’t made up his mind.

RATING: 7/10