Last Night In Soho (2021), directed by Edgar Wright and co-written by Wright and Krysty Wilson-Cairns, is a psychological horror Nuovo Giallo film set in London, following events in the 1960s, experienced in dreams and hallucinations by a clairvoyant young fashion student in the 2010s. The protagonist, Ellie Turner (played by Thomasin McKenzie) begins having visions of an aspiring singer, "Sandie" (played by Anya Taylor-Joy), who is trafficked as a prostitute by her manager Jack (played by Matt Smith of Doctor Who). Ellie begins to suffer violent hauntings which physically injure her, involving Sandie's clients, and Ellie investigates Sandie's suspected murder, hoping to bring peace to Sandie's spirit and put an end to the hauntings.
Last Night In Soho is a breathtaking cinematic masterpiece full of spectacularly shot montages, diegetic music from the 1960s, and what may be the most expressive use of mirrors and thematically hued lighting I have ever seen on film. Casting for film extras involved hiring dozens of sets of twins, and some of the sets in this film are actually two mirror-image versions of the same room, to create shots in which Ellie and Sandie are moving in tandem through a dream-and-memory sequence in crowded dance halls and lounges. The film is saturated with subtle and beautiful foreshadowing about how the events of Sandie's life actually played out, setting up the final plot twists without being tedious or trite about it.
Ellie as a main character is tenderly compassionate and completely sympathetic, overwhelmed by the intensity of her experiences and being out of her depth in the city. Matt Smith's performance as Jack ranges from suave and likeable to horrific and brutal, allowing the audience to readily sympathise with Sandie, as well, and not just as a victim of trafficking: Sandie is a confident, clever, charismatic woman who defies popular stereotypes for what a victim of abuse looks like, and the audience is made to understand that anyone could end up in the same circumstances. Having a good head on one's shoulders does not grant immunity to abuse, sexual violence, or human trafficking, and being a sex worker does not erase a person's fundamental humanity or rights, even if it deprives them of access to those rights. The show also explores themes of mental health and illness, and how society lets people fall through the cracks of the healthcare and criminal justice systems: people with mental illness, drug use and addiction, or a history of sex work or domestic abuse, all can go missing for long stretches of time without their absence being noticed or investigated, and often then are denied necessary help to escape dangerous circumstances, or are preyed upon by people who claim to offer them help.
These themes will potentially resonate for anyone who also enjoyed Sucker Punch (2011), Moulin Rouge! (2001), or The Girl Who Played With Fire (2009), though be reminded that this is definitely a horror film, and it does not skimp on horrific imagery. I will add, however, that Last Night In Soho is not exactly a frightening film, with regard to the hauntings themselves; the true horror is found in the very real threats Sandie and Ellie each experience: exploitation and sexual abuse, drinks being drugged, hallucinations and violently dangerous mental health episodes in public places, people going missing and being murdered, and victims being disbelieved by police and other authority figures. Fans of Dario Argento as a director will likely find something to love in this film, which makes noticeable homage to Argento's Suspiria (1977). The plot concludes in an emotionally satisfying (if also emotionally complex) manner, and it feels more redemptively just than punitive, which for this genre and subject matter is downright refreshing.
This film was the final screen appearance of Dame Diana Rigg (who played Olenna Tyrell in HBO's Game of Thrones) and Margaret Nolan, both of whom died in 2020.
Iron Noder 2021, 27/30