Who would have thought that digging the Kinks was so dangerous?
Eloise Turner (Thomasin McKenzie) packs "The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society" as one of the records she takes with her to London. Eloise long dreamed of living in London, a dream fueled by the lure of London's 1960s swinging past. Eloise's grandmother Rita Tushingham, who was her mother and provided the vinyl piles, is astonished at her high expectations. Eloise's mother was on a similar journey, but she had already committed suicide many years before.
She says, "It's nothing like you imagine London."
It doesn't take much for Eloise to be disabused by modern-day London in Edgar Wright's "Last Night in Soho." She discovers the city's dark underbelly on her first taxi ride. Eloise arrives as a fashion student and is mocked by her classmates because of her outdated tastes. Eloise runs to her apartment, which is located on top of an old building in Soho. It's owned by Diana Rigg, her final screen performance. She is transported to the '60s London when she falls asleep, and a bedside radio player turns on. She mirrors Sandie Taylor-Joy (an aspiring chanteuse) as she takes in the glamour of the era on her nighttime excursions. Her vicariously lived experience of the 1960s becomes dark. It turns out that not all was as glamorous, especially for a young woman who struggles to find her way in a nightclub full of unattractive men.
Although "Last Night in Soho" opens in theaters on Friday, its set-up is spectacular but the film's second part makes it seem sloppy. A promising premise is ruined by a confusing murder mystery that takes the supernatural concept too far. Instead of deconstructing genre tropes, a movie seems to be overwhelmed by them.
This is a shame, as the topic of nostalgia overindulgence could prove to be a profitable one for any film made in this era of repurposed movies. It seems a perfect fit for Wright, the British filmmaker of playful genre combinations like "Shaun of the Dead", and "Baby Driver", whose films are filled with affectionate film references as well as well-timed needle drops. Everyone can understand the effect a mythical time has on Eloise. But Wright's nostalgia seems to be driving "Last Night In Soho".
Wright discovers a way for Eloise to present Sandie with her present when she is first transported to 1965. But not in the ghostly "Christmas Carol" way. Eloise is always reflected back whenever Sandie passes a mirror. They are spiritually intertwined. The experience is all she imagined at first. Sandy and Matt Smith, a handsome, well-connected man, whirl through Soho at night, jumping under the bright marquee "Thunderball." (Fittingly "Last Night in Soho", which will be shown in theaters more than 50 years later, will also feature Bond.
Eloise is eager to get back in bed. After a few nights, Sandy's promising start as a performer was cynically ruined by a routine of backup-dancers. The reality backstage is much worse. Eloise's 1960s dream becomes a nightmare. Just as you think that "Last Night in Soho", will explore Eloise’s nostalgia and relationship with her present, the terrifying visions almost make Eloise a zombie. The movie seems to end halfway through.
This nightmare becomes more real and even links to Eloise's current day. Terence Stamp is prominently featured, as he does every day. His presence is captivating, but the character leaves him with little to do. Michael Ajao plays Eloise's sweet student suitor. Wright's "Last Night in Soho" with Krysty Wilkins-Cairns dispels the attraction of the 1960s to Eloise. It's the fact that, once the movie, shot so well by Chung-hoon Chung as cinematographer, reaches this conclusion, it becomes a stale mess of B-movie jump scares.
However, neither their characters get enough depth. McKenzie or Taylor-Joy maintain "Last Night in Soho," which is a movie that reflects on both past horror stories ("Straight on Till Morning," "Suspiria"), and current #MeToo terrors.
Focus Features' "Last Night In Soho" has been rated R by The Motion Picture Association of America due to bloody violence, language and brief drug material. Running time: 116 mins. Out of four stars, it gets two and a quarter stars.