“Has a woman ever died in my room?” A young fashion student nervously quizzes her new landlady. Played with wide-eyed naïveté by Thomasin McKenzie (Jojo Rabbit), Eloise Turner has recently enrolled at London College of Fashion and finds herself at odds with a hostile city that is not quite what she imagined. “This is London,” her landlady Miss Collins sneers. “Someone has died in every room and every building and on every street corner in the city.” In director Edgar Wright’s time-travelling horror film, London is transformed into a ghost story, and its looming facades and streets are haunted, as are the women whose hurried steps mark the pavements. In this sense, it is not too detached from reality after all.
Raised by her grandmother following her mother’s suicide, Eloise has a penchant for otherworldly connection, catching glimpses of her mother in the odd mirror here and there; we see that spirits already stalk her day-to-day life. Like many of us, she has a near-fanatical fixation of eras past – namely what she perceives to be the decadent glamour of the 60s. She hopes to transmute her obsessions into fashion designs which will pay homage to the decade, so she hops on a train out of the Cornwall countryside and into the Big Smoke.
Straight from the outset, Eloise is out of her depth. While driving through the streets of Soho to her new halls of residence, a predatory taxi driver eyeballs her suggestively while casually making threatening comments about stalking her. Her face is rigid with terror; we’ve all been there before. Wright and his first ever female co-writer Krysty Wilson-Cairns are setting the scene: in the capital, misogyny and male violence is rife. What could be more terrifying than that?
Under the glossy neon-lit facade is crumbling black rot. And women, as always, are collateral to the impulses and the violence of men. The decade may change, the fact stays the same.
After getting off on the wrong foot with her fellow classmates – who take pleasure in scoffing at her “retro” sensibilities and lack of enthusiasm for partying – she swaps her student halls for a creaky bedsit, drenched in the glow of a big neon sign outside. This is where the real fun begins.
In her dreams she’s catapulted back to the Swinging Sixties, and into the body of alluring and voguish wannabe singer Sandy (Anya Taylor-Joy). At first Eloise is completely enamoured with her new nocturnal life, every night slipping into unconsciousness and waking up bolt upright into Sandy’s glamorous world of dapper gentlemen callers and smoke-filled nightclubs. She feels protective over Sandy, both of them fresh-faced and giddy with ambition, living in the same bedsit in London in different decades, trying to make their dreams a reality. In real life, Eloise begins to excel in her studies, with her dreams providing ample sartorial inspiration for her fashion designs, and she even begins to emulate Sandy’s bleached hair, vinyl trench coats and organza bell dresses. But soon enough, the mirror begins to splinter and the dream becomes a nightmare.
Yes, it may delve into the exploitation of women, but some twists at the climax serve only to humanise the awful men that the film at earlier points made great efforts to depict as loathsome.
The empty promises of stardom from her once sweet-talking beau Jack (Matt Smith) turn to ashes in his mouth. A brute of a pimp, he serves a glassy-eyed Sandy up to a revolving door of new men every night. One frantic montage through a seedy backstage hallway in one of London’s most ritzy club reveals women being used like rag dolls in each room. In one, a man injects drugs into the limp arm of a catatonic prostitute. In another, sex between two people. Is the woman even conscious? We’re not so sure. Under the glossy neon-lit facade is crumbling black rot. And women, as always, are collateral to the impulses and the violence of men. The decade may change, the fact stays the same.
As the film builds to a blood-splattering crescendo, Eloise begins to lose her grip on reality, and amidst her mocking classmates, we sense her fear that she will end up like her mother; a thinly-veiled commentary on the stigma around mental health which goes relatively unexplored. We begin to see faceless spectres of the heinous men that have frequented Sandy’s bedsit bleed into Eloise’s own life, and the line between what is real and what is a fantasy becomes more and more fragile, which comes to a head in a particularly nightmarish scene in Clapham’s infamous nightclub Infernos.
Gaudy jump scares and gore abound, Last Night In Soho clearly disdains uneducated nostalgia – the kind of ignorant obsession that makes people idolise eras, or celebrated public figures, while turning a blind eye to their history of cruelty and violence. Yes, it may delve into the exploitation of women, but some twists at the climax serve only to humanise the awful men that the film at earlier points made great efforts to depict as loathsome. And at the end of the violence? The confused messaging and a laughably contrived conclusion means little to no catharsis, so don’t go into this one expecting a satisfying social commentary or nuanced observations of the capital’s history. London’s seedy underbelly lives on and there will be plenty more nights in Soho.
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