2021 was a pretty good year for writer/director Edgar Wright. After taking a three-year break between projects, the Baby Driver (2017) creator brought the award-winning documentary The Sparks Brothers (2021) and supernatural thriller Last Night in Soho (2021) to theaters. Considering how much music has played in each of his films, it only seemed a matter of time before Wright pushed that further. For Sparks, that meant doing a deep-dive into the eponymous brother-led band; while, for Last Night, it meant using music as the trigger for the central character to travel through time. But where Sparks is a joyous exploration of a truly odd and creative career, Last Night is dark, dirty, and thrilling in the way that trying to get away with something dangerous usually is. Co-written by Krysty Wilson-Cairns (1917), Last Night in Soho tells the story of dreams and aspirations and the nightmares we’re often not aware we must face in order to make any of them come true. Thanks to Universal Pictures Home Entertainment, folks like myself who enjoyed Last Night can not only revisit it as often as they like, but will also be treated to roughly 101 minutes of bonus materials that dive into the various technical skills that brought this Soho nightmare to life.
18-year-old Eloise (Thomasin McKenzie) dreams of moving to London and studying to become a fashion designer. Accepted into a program at the London College of Fashion, she heads off to make her dreams come true, except it’s not all she imagined between judgmental classmates and struggling to find her footing in classes. That is, until she decides to take up housing off-campus in Soho, where she finds herself dreaming of life in 1965, full of the music and glamour she admires. Oddly, these dreams put her in the shoes of a girl named Sandie (Anya Taylor-Joy) with dreams of her own. Their strange connection kicks off a wonder of ideas within Eloise, but there comes a danger as the dreams start to crossover into her waking life until Eloise can’t tell what’s real and what’s not.
Heads up that what follows will include spoiler content as there was no initial theatrical review opportunity.
If there’s a word to describe Wright’s voice, it’s “eclectic.” He’s tackled action, horror, science fiction, comic adaptation, and, while those often over-lapped into other genres, now, a straight thriller. Frankly, what Wright and Wilson-Cairns devised is darker than one might expect from the creative who often uses comedy to soften the blow of his themes. Here, the creep-factor is almost always raised and, surprisingly, it’s not because of Eloise’s supernatural connection. Her “gift” to see her mother (and the explanation for why she can connect with Sandie’s spirit) isn’t the part that unsettles, it’s the experiences that Eloise has throughout the film that are, sadly, natural occurrences for women in the world. It’s the slimy way the cab driver talks to her during the drive to campus, referring to himself as a potential stalker. It’s the way her male classmate saddles up to her while she listens to her headphones, takes them off of her, and then makes a vulgar oral sex-related gesture to another male as he gives her back her headphones. There are few moments in which her space isn’t in some way violated and it’s typically by men. That her journeys into the past with Sandie turn caustic as Eloise tries and fails to prevent Sandie from being used by her manager Jack (a scarily disturbing performance from Matt Smith) only continues to highlight how (a) the past is never as glamorous as history may want it to seem and (b) that misogyny is (sadly) timeless.
To me, this is why the reveal that building manager Mrs. Collins (played by the late Diana Rigg) is actually grown-up Sandie makes the most sense. If you found it to be a strange and flat twist, I encourage you to revisit the first meeting between Collins and Eloise as you might notice all the dialogue that hints at the truth. This wasn’t meant to be a secret and it (the twist) serves as a horrible example of just how much damage men inflict upon women and how often the tattered remnants of such violence go unnoticed. Granted, I did not see it coming the first time, but, with fore-knowledge, you can more plainly see where the seeds are being planted: notice the mention of keeping the scent plugs in during the summer or how Collins used to work there or how many girls had been in the room Eloise rents. It certainly helps that Wright cast Terrance Stamp as an elderly gentleman we’re led to believe, by way of Eloise, is Jack as an old man, thereby using their physical similarities, Eloise’s growing awareness that nostalgia doesn’t equal safety, and our expectation of a man to be the villain of the tale to set the audience on a path of reasonable terror. Revealing Collins as elderly Sandie doesn’t change the fact that Jack and all the men who preyed upon Sandie *are* the villains of the story; she merely did what she had to do to survive; turned into a gnarled and twisted thing due to their salacious desires and presumptive ownership. Something which makes her death more sad than satisfying. I quite literally felt zero sympathy for the specters of the men who abused Sandie for their pleasure in life and begged Eloise for help in death. If there’s something which deserves crying foul at the end, it’s that Eloise was able to do so much while poisoned when Collins implied it would be swift post-ingestion.
While the story can be debated as to its merits, I don’t think one can question the technical prowess of the execution. To my enormous glee, the bonus features support this by exploring in detail, grand and small, how the film was produced. The sequence at the Café de Paris where we first see Sandie in the mirror with Eloise? Done in-camera with a double set and twin actors James and Oliver Phelps (Harry Potter series) serving as the cloakroom attendant on both sides. The dance number that comes soon as Sandie meets Jack, both Taylor-Joy and McKenzie followed the camera operator so that they could sneak in and out of frame as necessary. Is there a moment where digital effects were used to make an aspect more seamless? Yes. But the majority of that sequence is in-camera and this trend was used throughout the film. So either it was a double set, some mild green screen use, or as much practical effect applications put into frame before digital magic was utilized. For instance, in “Smoke and Mirrors,” we learn how the actors playing the specters were fitted with material that allowed them to see and breathe while looking like they could do neither. Then, they not only went through various makeup tests to get the coloring right, but the same actor would perform an action multiple times so as to create the overlapping technique that made each appear as terrifying as they do. Compared to most other home releases, once you’re done with getting the walkthrough from the five main featurettes, there’re animatics that allow you to see how Wright storyboarded four major sequences and, for 4K UHD, Blu-ray, and digital owners, there are four bonus extras that allow you to explore the makeup, hair, lighting, VFX, and the aforementioned dance sequence rehearsal. Most home releases don’t allow the audience more than a glimpse (if that) into the development process, so this is a particular treat for the technical nerds (like myself).
While my preference for Wright’s films tends to lean a little lighter (Hot Fuzz (2007) remains top, especially due to the shift in appreciation for portions of the cast of Baby Driver), Last Night in Soho is, perhaps, his next best technically impressive film. It relies on few on his usual editing tricks, features a female in the lead role, and treats her with as much dignity as possible. My favorite portion may just be that she’s a person with the ability to connect with the supernatural and it’s never explored beyond it being something that will always be with her. In that way, Last Night bears a connection to Shaun of the Dead (2004) as it, too, doesn’t offer explanations for why things happen, it merely reacts to them as the narrative requires. In this way, the gift creates an opportunity for time travel, for breaking of the spiritual barrier, for shifting Eloise from timid design student to stalwart final girl.
Last Night in Soho Special Features:
- Making of Featurettes
- Meet Eloise – An in-depth look at the character of Eloise and the challenges that star Thomasin McKenzie faced while bringing her to life. (10:06)
- Dreaming of Sandie – A closer look at the characters of Sandie and Jack and why Anya Taylor-Joy and Matt Smith were the perfect actors to embody the essence of the time period. (9:06)
- Smoke and Mirrors – The cast and crew break down how lighting, makeup, special effects, and creative camerawork came together to create a collision between the present day and 1960’s time periods. (12:38)
- On the Streets of Soho – The cast and crew discuss the importance of shooting on location in Soho and the complexity of transforming the city streets back in time. (8:37)
- Time Travelling – A look into how the music, costume design, and production design of the film work together to immerse the audience into the world of 1960’s Soho. (10:47)
- Deleted Scenes (9:25)
- Ellie Gets Conned (1:06)
- Hidden Nightmares (1:05)
- The Bridge (2:24)
- Alleys and Shadows (3:29)
- You Know Where to Find Me (0:48)
- Extended Chase (0:32)
- Animatics (13:11)
- First Dream (7:02)
- Shadow Men (1:42)
- Murder (3:13)
- Final Confrontation (1:14)
- Additional Extras
- Hair & Makeup Tests** (7:27)
- Lighting & VFX Tests** (6:21)
- Wide Angle Witness Cam (1:56)
- Steadicam Alternative Take (1:47)
- Acton Town Hall Steadicam Rehearsal** (1:25)
- “Downtown” Music Video** (5:29)
- Trailers** (4:44)
- Feature commentary with director/co-writer Edgar Wright, editor Paul Machliss and composer Steve Price (1:56:56)
- Feature commentary with director/co-writer Edgar Wright and co-writer Kristy Wilson-Cairns (1:56:56)
**Available on 4K, BD and Digital only
Available on digital January 4th, 2022.
Available on 4K UHD, Blu-ray, and DVD January 18th, 2022.
For more information, head to the official Last Night in Soho website.
Final Score: 4 out of 5.