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"LAST NIGHT IN SOHO"
(2021) (Thomasin McKenzie, Anya Taylor-Joy) (R)


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QUICK TAKE:
Thriller/Horror: A young woman's love of all things related to 1960s pop culture turns into a nightmare as she finds herself playing the part of a singer from that era whose dreams of stardom were replaced by something bad.
PLOT:

Eloise Turner (THOMASIN McKENZIE) is an older orphaned teen who lives in the English countryside with her grandmother, is enamored with all things related to the 1960s, and dreams of becoming a fashion designer, no doubt influenced by that bygone era. Fortunately for her, she has been accepted to the London College of Fashion and moves into the dorm, only to learn that she's not a good fit with her roommate, Jocasta (SYNNOVE KARLSEN), and her band of fellow mean girls.

Accordingly, and despite finding a friend in classmate John (MICHAEL AJAO), Eloise moves out and rents an upstairs apartment from Miss Collins (DIANA RIGG), a stern landlord who sees her new tenant as someone like who she used to be, excited to be in the big city and with dreams of stardom. Perhaps that's what sparks Eloise's imagination as falls asleep and ends up walking out onto the streets of London where the movie "Thunderball" is playing, and the Café de Paris is the local spot to be seen.

Once inside, Eloise turns to a mirror and sees herself as Sandie (ANYA TAYLOR-JOY), a young woman with dreams of becoming a star and whose looks draw the attention of Jack (MATT SMITH), a self-professed agent who claims he can get her work. When Eloise wakes up, she ends up obsessed with Sandie and does what she can to become more like her, something that draws the attention of an older man, the Silver Haired Gentleman (TERENCE STAMP), who seems to recognize her but doesn't let on how.

Unfazed by that, Eloise is eager to fall asleep and become Sandie again. But as she does so night after night, she eventually realizes her idolized view of 1960s London isn't what she thought or dreamed of, especially when she sees Sandie's dreams seemingly dashed. With things deteriorating, Eloise begins to experience scary episodes in both settings, all of which make her question whether any of it is real or if she's suffering from mental illness like her late mother.

OUR TAKE: 8 out of 10

I'm not sure of the underlying psychological condition that causes it, but many people often have a romanticized view of the past, be that of their own, or sometimes an era before they were even born. For me, it was the 1950s, the decade before I arrived, and I'm guessing that rose-colored view came from depictions I saw in movies and TV shows (such as "American Graffiti" and "Happy Days"). Interestingly enough, I recall another reviewer thinking the same of that decade despite being born thirty years after it.

Granted, such positive rearview mirror thoughts are only possible in the absence of any sort of emotionally scarring trauma. And, of course, some of that stems from the near-universal "things were better back then" mentality, and -- at least for yours truly thinking about my college days -- the mind's ability to somehow compress all the mundane and trying times in favor of the more pleasurable and good ones.

Such notions of the "grass is always greener on the other side of the way-back time machine fence" come into play in the well-made and riveting "Last Night in Soho." In this cautionary love letter meets thriller/horror flick from writer/director Edgar Wright & co-writer Krysty Wilson-Cairns, Thomasin McKenzie stars as Eloise Turner. She's a present-day teen who dreams of becoming a fashion designer, no doubt partially inspired by the fashion awakening that occurred in 1960s era London, a period with which she's wholeheartedly obsessed.

Thus, the orphaned girl who lives with her grandmother and listens to old sixties hits, and has related posters on her bedroom wall, is elated about attending school at the London College of Fashion. But those idolized notions are quickly challenged when a male taxi driver gives her too much leering attention while her roommate (Synnove Karlsen) is a classic mean girl who parties a little too hearty for Eloise's taste.

She regains her footing after she rents a top floor apartment from Miss Collins (the late Diana Rigg) and especially when her first night's dream there has her time traveling back to swinging London, with "Thunderball" playing at the nearby theater and us -- or maybe just her -- half-imagining Austin Powers is going to show up, strutting to the groovy "Soul Bossa Nova."

Eloise ends up entering the Café de Paris where she's treated like a regular and perhaps that's because when she catches a glimpse of herself in the mirror, she's not the innocent, mousy girl from the countryside but instead is the impeccably dressed and beautifully alluring Sandie (the otherworldly Anya Taylor-Joy).

She's an aspiring singer who's arrived in the city with dreams of stardom, and things seem to look up when a man who seems to be an agent (Matt Smith) promises to make her a star by introducing her to the right men. But they're interested in something beyond her voice and by the time Eloise sees Sandie performing as a scantily clad, Burlesque type dancer, she and we know things aren't going to go well for her.

Or for Eloise, it turns out, as the past starts to intrude upon her present, with increasingly supernatural vibes that eventually have her questioning her sanity. And which will likely have viewers wondering about the way everything ties together and how things will ultimately play out.

I loved every moment of the film, from the cool premise to the parallels of showing ambitious young women from different eras and the obstacles (and then some) they must face and endure. The performances are all top-notch, the film has visual panache to spare, and the soundtrack is great, including vintage numbers, some 1980s pop hits recreated to sound like original '60s era songs, and then Taylor-Joy's haunting a cappella version of Petula Clark's far more optimistic "Downtown."

Possibly destined to be one of those "have you seen it" movies that has everyone talking, "Last Night in Soho" is a creepy, engaging, and ultimately enthralling horror-thriller that I can't stop thinking about. It rates as an 8 out of 10.




Reviewed October 13, 2021 / Posted October 29, 2021


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