Although it's perfectly serviceable entertainment, this by-the-numbers thriller is a little beneath the talents of its director/cowriter Edgar Wright. Those expecting Wright's trademark snappy editing and droll humor might be disappointed at how straight he plays it here. Nevertheless, there's some interesting stuff. Read on.
Thomasin McKenzie stars as Eloise, a mousy girl from Cornwall who is accepted into a prestigious fashion school in London. Before she even gets on the train, however, we're shown that she experiences recurring visions of her dead mother, who committed suicide a dozen-odd years earlier, and is thus in a perpetually fragile emotional state. So you know that's going to come into play.
Once in London, Eloise ducks out on her awful dormitory mate and rents a room in an old London flat owned by Diana Rigg. Here Eloise finds herself having vivid dreams about the mid-1960s period that she loves, and finds herself identifying with an alluring young singer named Sandie (Anya Taylor-Joy). Naturally, it doesn't take long for these visions to take a disturbing turn, and the ghost-conscious Eloise starts to believe that something terrible happened in her room.
Wright's film, based on his original screenplay cowritten with Krysty Wilson-Cairns (who penned 1917), takes heavy cues from Roman Polanski's Repulsion, which starred Catherine Deneuve as a similarly repressed young woman experiencing similarly disturbing visions in London. Not coincidentally, that film came out in 1965, the year in which Eloise's dreams/flashbacks begin. But Last Night in Soho also owes debts to everything from Vertigo to The Shining to a bunch of lesser-known British dramas. Stylistically, it feels more like a Guillermo del Toro movie, with its geeky romanticism and its broken-but-brave female protagonist. Only its clever, almost too on-the-nose soundtrack of old British pop hits reminds us that this is a Wright production.
Ultimately, though, the script is a letdown, with cliched side characters such as the nice guy pseudo-boyfriend (Michael Ajao) who sticks by Eloise even when she completely loses it, the bitchy school bully (Synnøve Karlsen) who mocks poor little Eloise as if this were high school and not a fashion college, and the mysterious creep (Terrence Stamp), whose true nature would easily be known if he just took ten seconds to introduce himself, instead of lurking about threateningly. These are all lazy storytelling tropes, and while I appreciate that Wright cast Rigg and Stamp for their own history with 1960s British film, he doesn't quite do the actors justice. Moreover, the film gets off on the wrong foot, as Eloise's visions of her dead mother are absolutely mundane: the woman just stands there looking pleasant. If there was any real argument that Eloise is crazy, as opposed to having the sixth sense, it's diluted by the humdrum quality of her early visions. And no spoilers, but these motherly apparitions don't even factor into the plot, when all is said and done.
Still, Last Night in Soho delivers some eerie visual effects and the requisite plot twist. If you enjoy films like The Others, you'll probably dig it. But I wish it felt more original and less like an amalgam of other movies.