Last Night In Soho (2021)

Director Edgar Wright, who also co-wrote this with Krysty Wilson-Cairns, said, “Something that I find truly nightmarish — and I guess there’s an element where I’m sort of giving a sharp rebuke to myself — is the danger of being overly nostalgic about previous decades. In a way, the film is about romanticizing the past and why it’s … wrong to do that.”

He based this on the stories his parents told him of growing up in the 60s, how their albums made him feel and that his mother said that she was once chased through Soho, which wasn’t always very nice. As much as this film feels giallo, it also feels very Pete Walker, which makes this other quote by Wright make sense: “A lot of films of that period are about the darker side of Soho or of show business. You still have to question where they’re coming from, because there’s a lot of them, which are more the sensationalistic ones, that take this kind of punitive approach to the female characters. There’s a lot of movies where it seems that the genre is “Girl comes to London to make it big and is roundly punished for her efforts.”” Come on, Edgar, just say the movie you’re talking about: Walker’s Cool It Carol!

Then again, it’s so giallo that it was originally titled Red Light Area and The Night Has a Thousand Eyes. Wright also explained the influence to Rue Morgue by saying, ” I’ve always enjoyed that genre; I’ve found it really entertaining throughout my life. Probably the first ones I saw as a teenager were The Bird With the Crystal Plumage and then Deep Red. I think Deep Red is actually the best of all of them, in fact. SUSPIRIA is fantastic, but I believe Deep Red is Dario Argento’s best movie, maybe because the story is just brilliant. And over the years, I’ve gone on a deeper and deeper dive of trying to watch all of them. But in a way, with this movie, I was sort of going backwards, being just as inspired by the movies that inspired them. I’d say that the Italian giallo movement is their interpretation of movies by Alfred Hitchcock or Michael Powell, so when writing this, I was more looking back at the inspirations for that movement, some of which are British films.”

Well, it does have a lot of the trappings of giallo, what with the predominate bright red and blue color hues in the more horrific scenes, as well as its stranger in a strange land heroine Eloise “Ellie” Turner (Thomasin McKenzie) who has left behind a small town to study fashion — not dance, that would be too simple a steal for this story — in London, the place she has dreamed of and also where her mother lost her grasp on reality and committed suicide, leading to her being raised by her grandmother (Rita Tushingham, who was in the giallo Il nascondiglio).

What moves this away from giallo and into the fantastic is that she’s always been able to see her mother’s ghost, so when the dead world of today transforms into 1960s Soho, a gorgeous world of gigantic movie theater marquees and dancing escape sequences, it isn’t out of the ordinary for her.

At night, she sleeps in her single room in the rundown flat owned by Ms. Collins (Diana Rigg!) and dreams of singer Alexandra “Sandie” Collins (Anya Taylor-Joy) who has been brought into the dark orbit of manager Jack (Matt Smith). As the dreams grow more sinister, Ellie does what giallo heroines do: she tries to solve the murder of Sandie, a death she is sure that has happened. And that’s when she suffers the fate of so many of those Italian psychosexual heroines: she has missed a very vital clue and the truth is not what she believes it to be. That means that she must stand by in silence — at least she doesn’t have needles under her eyes — and watch murders happen before her eyes.

The bars of the past, gorgeous dancehalls and showplaces, are now the squalor and ordinary pubs like the one she works at, the place where she fears the silver haired man (Terence Stamp!) who has to be Jack, who has to be a murderer, who has to pay. Meanwhile, she struggles in school until taking the fashions of the past into today, battling with rival student Jocasta (Synnøve Karlsen) and falling for John (Michael Ajao).

What I love about this film is the feeling that nostalgia is dangerous and will come to destroy you if you do not escape it. Somehow, it can be about that and also be a movie that has an entire dance sequence made with nearly all practical effects despite having magical moments where a dreamming character can switch places with a woman from before her birth. The dangers of said nostalgia are not lost on me, someone who mostly watches Italian movies from the 70s and recognizes that the Vesper drink that Sandie orders (gin, vodka, lillet blanc and a twist of lemon) was invented by Ian Fleming for the character that Ursula Andress played in Casino Royale. Also: I think Wright loves Don’t Look Now as much as I do. And yeah, that alley that gets run through is where the first murder in Peeping Tom happens.

This is the kind of movie that I can — and already did — go on and on about. I get that I’m supposed to hate all the CGI at the end and that this is a movie made in 2021, but I’m trying to remain open that the movies of today can be as good as the ones I have seen so many times.

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