“This is London. Someone has died in every room in every building and on every street corner in the city.”
Attending school for fashion design in London, Eloise (Thomasin McKenzie) is mortified by her new roommate Jocasta (Synnove Karlsen) and the worldliness of the other students outside the classroom. Not ready for the dormitory experience, Eloise answers an ad for a women-only room in the old Soho district from Ms. Collins (Diana Rigg) and settles in. Her dreams are filled with the glamor of the district in the 1960s… before realizing her reflection belongs to another woman, Sandie (Anya Taylor-Joy), who seems curiously aware of Eloise being along for the ride. After initially being inspired by her nightly visits into the past, dreams turn to nightmares as she realizes what horrors Sandie was exposed to by her agent Jack (Matt Smith) … and dangers that could reach Eloise even in the present.
Writer/director Edgar Wright has a filmmaking style that has evolved with his career, from The Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, and The World’s End) to Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. After the excellent Baby Driver, his cinematic follow-up would be a psychological horror featuring The VVitch and “Queen’s Gambit” actress Anya Taylor-Joy but with Jojo Rabbit’s Thomasin McKenzie as the main character. The trailers tease something looking like time travel or a window to the past but in a way of letting evil into the present — not to mention Matt Smith chewing the scenery. A departure from Wright’s usual boy’s club fare and with period visuals that exude fashion and danger in equal amounts, what exactly has he cooked up this time?
A connection with the dead is implied from the very beginning, but it’s unclear if it’s an interactive memory or an actual spirit, and the main character knows as little as the viewers. Is Eloise seeing ghosts no one else can, or is she stirring up echoes by giving them substance? The answer lies somewhere between Poltergeist’s Carol Anne and ParaNorman, but it feels new in Wright’s capable hands. Striking an unusual balance between crime and punishment while questioning comeuppance, Eloise and Sandie need an impossible solution to reach a satisfying end: a never-was relationship that will always be.
Taylor-Joy’s Sandie is a confident muse whose happiness infects others, everything McKenzie’s Eloise lacks but is willing to learn. Early scenes swapping characters dancing with the same man are seamlessly choreographed, favoring practical effects over CGI as if the two were a single person. As the transference between the two women progresses, you can feel Sandie reaching out as she begins to slip away while Eloise tries in vain to save a shadow. Michael Ajao provides a friend in the real world when Eloise needs one the most, and Terence Stamp contributes in a surprising role that will have folks guessing.
Soho combines elements of a haunted house tale, a classic ghost story, and a mystery half a century in the making, but the emotional connection is the film’s core. Wright’s work always includes strong relationships — it shouldn’t be a surprise how well this works — but having the central buddy element as two women bonding across time may be his most believable yet, and that’s saying something.
Last Night in Soho is rated R for bloody violence, sexual content, language, brief drug material, brief graphic nudity, and inventing a new definition for the term “dead inside.”
Four skull recommendation out of four