Sunday, September 12, 2021

TIFF: Last Night in Soho (2021)

Eloise, or Ellie, (Thomasin McKenzie) is obsessed with the 1960s. Growing up with her granny (Rita Tushingham) meant she was exposed to the era in all sorts of ways, particularly music and fashion. Ellie is particularly good at the latter, crafting all sorts of vintage style pieces. When she gets accepted to a fashion program in London, she's thrilled. Heading off to London, the home of the swinging '60s, is the dream. But there is something unusual about Ellie. She sees ghosts. Particularly her deceased mother who appears in mirrors when something good is about to happen to Ellie. 

Ellie's transition to life as a fashion student is brutal. She encounters sexual harassment and peer bullying. She eventually moves out of the dorm and rents a room in an old London flat run by one Miss Collins (Diana Rigg). And when she sleeps at night in her new space she sees visions of Sandy (Anya Taylor-Joy), a gorgeous blonde entertainer trying to make it in the London nightclub scene. Sandy meets with Jack (Matt Smith) who promises her a career but ends up being her pimp instead. By night, Ellie is transported back to the 1960s and into Sandy's tumultuous life. By day she's struggling to make it as a student in an expensive city. Ellie becomes more invested in Sandy and even changes her own hairstyle and adopts Sandy's fashions to embody her even more. Her makeover catches the eye of the mysterious regular (Terence Stamp) at the pub Ellie works at. Could he be Jack? What ensues is a living nightmare journey for Ellie and Sandy's trauma envelops her into a world where the visions bleed into her reality.

Okay there's much more to that story but if I were to tell you I'd be giving up some delicious spoilers and I don't want to do that to you. Let's just say real life 1960s icons, Terence Stamp and Diana Rigg, have some of the most important roles in the film.

Directed by Edgar Wright, Last Night in Soho is a complex psychological horror film that tries to do a bit too much and often at the expense of its characters. I was particularly horrified by the depiction of John (Michael Ajao), the sole black character and Ellie's love interest. His sole purpose is to assist Ellie and it's a shame because they put him in pretty terrifying circumstances and do not give his character any nuance or agency. (Read Robert Daniels review of the film to find out why this character is problematic.) And overall, the second half is a big mess with Ellie just running around London in a panic.

With that said, I think there is a lot of appeal here for classic movie fans, particularly ones who also enjoy horror and zombie movies. There isn't a lot of gore but there are some spooks. The swinging '60s London scenes are fantastic. It really transports you to another time. And for anyone who loves vintage fashion, especially of this era, you'll love to see what Sandy is wearing, Ellie's shopping trip to a vintage store and Ellie's makeover and fashion show. The film also pays tribute to the music of the 1960s. Taylor-Joy performs "Downtown", Ellie is constantly listening to '60s music and Cilla Black is a character in the story.

In one of the early scenes, Ellie/Sandy walk by a marquis promoting Thunderball (1965). 1960s actresses Margaret Nolan and Rita Tushingham appear in the film. However the biggest throwbacks to that era, besides the setting and the fashion, are two of the film's most important characters played by Terence Stamp and Diana Rigg. Production took place in 2019 and Diana Rigg passed away in 2020. In fact the movie premiered at TIFF on the one year anniversary of Rigg's passing on September 10th, 2021. And what a role for Rigg. It's one of the best swan songs I've ever had the privilege of watching. These kinds of roles are just not available to older actors, with a few exceptions. And while Rigg had been working into her later years but this role just really stands out to me. I found myself tearing up because what a fantastic role for this icon! That's not to diminish Terence Stamp who does a fantastic job as the mysterious pub regular who knows a bit too much about what happened to Sandy. He's terrifying and menacing. I know this movie is really an opportunity for McKenzie and Taylor-Joy to shine, but for me Stamp and Rigg steal the show.

I encourage you to check out the trailer and let me know what you think! As a classic movie fan, would you watch this one?

Last Night in Soho premiered at the 2021 Toronto International Film Festival. It hits theaters October 29th.

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