Last Night in Soho (UK, 2021)
Like so many films on my notional list this year, I’ve been meaning to watch Last Night in Soho for a while. While I’ve enjoyed almost everything Edgar Wright has made, with the sole exception of Baby Driver, I was especially excited to see him returning to horror. Shaun of the Dead still stands out as one of the greats of the genre, thanks in no small part to the sheer visual style Wright brings to the screen. Even his weaker films have an irresistible spark.
All that said, I’ve been hoping that Last Night in Soho offers some substance as well. Let’s see how that pans out.
Last Night in Soho is currently available on Netflix in the UK.
Ellie is a callow young woman from Cornwall, obsessed with the bygone glamour of 1960s London. When she is offered a place at the London College of Fashion, she cannot wait to start her new life in the capital. Personality clashes and the petty tribulations in student accommodation prove too much for her, however, and she seeks out digs elsewhere.
The room Ellie lets may be basic, but it comes with an unexpected perk. When Ellie sleeps, she finds herself drawn into a very real version of 1960s Soho, experiencing life vicariously through the senses of an ambitious young lounge singer named Sandie.
While Sandie’s life initially seems filled with the glamour Ellie craves, it soon takes a turn for the seedy when her would-be manager reveals himself to be more of a pimp, luring Sandie into a life of sex work and violence. This becomes all the more horrific when Sandie’s world starts bleeding into Ellie’s, pushing her into a spiral of supernatural psychosis.
What is this mysterious connection between Ellie and Sandie? Is Sandie just a ghost haunting Ellie or something even stranger? And will people ever be able to see Matt Smith the same way after watching this film?
The deftness with which Wright captures the seediness and glamour of London’s West End turns Last Night in Soho from an imaginative horror film into something even more special. His choice of shooting locations perfectly encapsulates the mood of the area, from its lively nightlife to its grubby bedsits and barely concealed sex trade. I spent a lot of evenings out on the town in the area when I was young, and there was some real pleasure in seeing nooks and crannies on screen that rarely find their way into films.
If I were to be pedantic, I might point out that the scope of the film extends well beyond Soho. Even so, the types of West End locations we see are within walking distance of the area, and the Soho here is more of a dream than mere geography.
I don’t think I’ve ever gone from hating a film to thoroughly enjoying it as abruptly as with Last Night in Soho. The first 30 minutes felt interminable. While it’s well observed enough, I just couldn’t make myself care about the trials of freshers life and Ellie’s fish-out-of-water woes. It could have been compressed into a fraction of the time without sacrificing character development.
Once we start getting the time slips, however, Last Night in Soho comes alive. This is an energetic, sometimes disorientating descent into horror. It would have been very easy to tell this story in a dour, harrowing way, but Wright wisely chooses to echo the superficial glamour of Sandie’s life in the style of the film itself. As the veneer cracks, we feel the corruption underneath all the more viscerally.
While Last Night in Soho is a wonderful demonstration of Edgar Wright’s visual storytelling prowess, its inspired camera work and editing perfectly creating a sense of fracturing realities, there is also a solid, if deceptively simple, horror story underneath all this artifice. It’s a wonderful example of how a creative approach can turn even a well-worn ghost yarn into something that feels exciting and new. Highly recommended.
The October Horror Movie Challenge
Please do join in and share your own thoughts with us about this or any other films as the month goes on. You can usually find us on Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, Discord, or lurking in the dark corners of your home.
If you would like to play along at home, my provisional selections are:
- Dark August (USA, 1976)
- Huesera: The Bone Woman (Mexico/Peru, 2022)
- The Banishing (UK, 2020)
- Brooklyn 45 (USA, 2023)
- Bloody Muscle Bodybuilder in Hell (Japan, 1995)
- Pyewacket (Canada, 2017)
- Grave Robbers (Mexico, 1989)
- You Might Be The Killer (USA, 2018)
- No One Will Save You (USA, 2023)
- The Sect (Italy, 1991)
- Last Night in Soho (UK, 2021)
- Errementari: The Blacksmith and the Devil (Spain, 2017)
- 47 Metres Down (UK/USA, 2017)
- The Oskars Fantasy (Philippines, 2022)
- In the Earth (UK, 2021)
- Something in the Dirt (USA, 2022)
- Blood Flower (Malaysia, 2023)
- Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night II (Canada, 1987)
- Older Gods (UK, 2023)
- Come to Daddy (New Zealand, 2020)
- Shrew’s Nest (Spain, 2014)
- Totally Killer (USA, 2023)
- The Premonition (USA, 1976)
- Murder Me, Monster (Argentina, 2018)
- The Gruesome Twosome (USA, 1967)
- Talk to Me (Australia, 2023)
- Gaia (South Africa, 2021)
- Demon (Poland, 2015)
- Juju Stories (Nigeria, 2022)
- El Conde (Chile, 2023)
- The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires (Hong Kong/UK, 1974)
A Final Note
If you have been enticed here by these posts, please do look around at some of our other film reviews. We also have a podcast, called The Good Friends of Jackson Elias, which occasionally covers horror films. If this appeals, you might want to check out some of the following episodes.
- The Night House
- The Changeling
- The Endless
- Our favourite Cthulhu Mythos media
- The Fly
- A Dark Song
- The Thing
- The Ritual
- The Wicker Man
- The Stone Tape
- Event Horizon
- The Witch
- INLAND EMPIRE
- Nightbreed and Lord of Illusions
- Maléfique and The Ninth Gate
- Re-Animator and From Beyond
- Repulsion and The Babdook
- Man Bites Dog, Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon and S&man
- A selection of weird films
- David Cronenberg
- The films that scared us most
If you dig through the archives, you will also find episodes about a wide variety of horror stories and games. Happy nightmares!