Showing Up Fashionably Late
Last Night in Soho
In this current generation of directors I would argue that there is none more distinctive than Edgar WrightFamous for his television show, Spaced, Edgar Wright saw his Hollywood aspiration come to fruition with the first of his "Three Flavours of Cornetto Trilogy" films, Shaun of the Dead. The English director, screenwriter, and producer has gone on to have a varied career with wildly dynamic, visually packed films across a number of genres.. There are directors that could arguably get better performances, or have a specific eye on certain details that make films their own, but when it comes to creating a coordinating vision of sight and sound, movement and effect, no one has quite the same intricate eye for detail as Wright. He has a style all his own that none have managed to duplicate.
Of course, much of that comes down to the way his films are plotted and constructed. Wright came to the attention of audiences with his short-lived British comedy show Spaced before delivering a well-orchestrated one-two punch of Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz (the first two of his "Cornetto Trilogy" films). These movies proved what he could do, building material, showing comedy that played with all aspects of the film, and creating films that felt like none other. And then her perfected this whole style with, in my opinion, his greatest show of his skills, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, a comedy that plays on all levels of sight and sound.
Since Scott Pilgrim, Wright has works to establish himself has more than just a comedy director. He crafted Baby Driver, an action movie that played to his love of music and choreography. Sadly that movie has since become a little problematic due to the off-screen issues of both lead actor Ansel Elgort and co-star Kevin Spacey. That took what was a very watchable movie and turned it into something you would rather not see at all. Wright needed another chance to prove he could do films other than comedies with a movie people would actually want to watch. Four years later we received our next big Wright production, the supernatural thriller Last Night in Soho.
The movie starts with Ellie Turner (Thomasin McKenzie), a freshmen fashion student who struggles to get along with her fellow students. Annoyed by her roommate, Ellie moves out of the dorms and finds a flat over in Soho. There, due to her ability to see ghosts (mostly just her dead mother who comes for silent visits once in a while), Ellie taps into the life of Sandie (Anya Taylor-Joy), a singer-dancer who used to live in that apartment and had dreams of making in big as a headliner at a club. Each night Ellie finds herself falling into Sandie's life, watching (and something being) the girl as Sandie meets Jack (Matt Smith), a club promoter who takes a shine to the young dancer.
Unfortunately for Sandie, Jack is a controlling jerk. He tells her that the only way for her to make it in the club world is to sell her body to men. She eventually gives in and follows his orders, night after night giving away pieces of her self to this dirty men until, one night in a fit of rage, Jack appears to kill her. Ellie goes spinning, seeing visions of these men haunting her, fearful for her life and afraid she'll end up like Sandie. Her only hope is to find out who killed her, who Jack really is, so that Ellie can avenge Sandie's death.
As far as thrillers go, the script for Last Night in Soho is only a moderate success. Co-written by Wright and Krysty Wilson-Cairns, the story follows a fairly expected path, at least for Sandie. It's a standard rise and fall story: girl looks to make it big, lands a gig, finds out the business is harder than she'd like (because men are pigs) and then falls from grace. The supernatural aspects of the story help the film flow, and it allows us to exist in two time periods at once, but in effect this is Sandie's story until she exists stage right, and then it's just up to us to figure out the clue for the bloody crime, and those clues really aren't all that hard to follow at all.
That's one big issue I had with the film: the mystery isn't much of a mystery once you figure out the twist (and I won't spoil that for anyone that hasn't seen it yet). It's a ghost story, with plenty of ghosts by the end of it, and once you start thinking logically (and ignoring any issues of the "unreliable narrator") everything about the film clicks painfully into place. I honestly enjoy the first half of the film, as Ellie explored Sandie's life, than anything to do with the grisly ends in the other half.
Ellie and Sandie blending into and around each other is where the film works, but I just wish it was more interesting in each character at the same level. While Ellie is the heroine of the piece, much more time is spent on Sandie's story, making the times we spend with our actual lead character seem frightfully brief. We learn about Sandie, watch her rise and fall, but we hardly dig into Ellie as a character once Sandie comes on the scene. She subsumes Ellie, in effect. Some of that is by design -- Ellie starts to model herself after Sandie -- but the film doesn't ever really seem to have the same grasp on our protagonist as it does the girl she keeps dreaming about.
We're supposed to view them (at least for a good half the film) as two people becoming one character. Ellie goes into the past and drifts in an our of Sandie's life. There are glorious moments of this -- Ellie watching Sandie as her reflection in a mirror, Sandie and Ellie dancing back and forth with Jack, Ellie becoming Sandie at key moments -- and this is where Wright's keen eye for direction and detail come in. His blending of these two characters is magical and these moments in the film absolutely sing. It's just everything else that falls a little flat.
Frankly, were it not for Wrights stunning direction this film would be little better than a made-for-TV horror story, one of a dozen ghost stories found in the dregs of NetflixOriginally started as a disc-by-mail service, Netflix has grown to be one of the largest media companies in the world (and one of the most valued internet companies as well). With a constant slate of new internet streaming-based programming that updates all the time, Netflix has redefined what it means to watch TV and films (as well as how to do it). or HuluOriginally created as a joint streaming service between the major U.S. broadcast networks, Hulu has grown to be a solid alternative to the likes of Netflix and Amazon Prime, even as it learns harder on its collection of shows from Fox and FX since Disney purchased a majority stake in the service.. The magical way Wright is able to move the paces around, to construct a very specific reality, is why the film works as well as it did, but even his skill starts to slacken in the latter act of the film and the movie really loses its way once it has to wrap everything up.
Last Night in Soho isn't a bad film by any measure, but it's certainly not up to the gold standard Wright has set in other films. He's a solid director and he has a very specific vision that works so well. It's just a pity he wasted that talent on a script that wasn't quite as good as he deserves.