"The blonde, effortlessly chic and ravenously ambitious Sandie"TWITTER/@ANYAFILES

Content Note: This article contains mention of violence and sexual exploitation.

Edgar Wright’s Last Night in Soho is a film that bleeds glamour and peril. An at times terrifying flick, the film places sexual violence and exploitation at its centre, exposing the dark realities lurking in the shadows and history of London. However, an ability to depict oppression does not ensure an ability to produce a poignant message, and although some of the scenes of everyday sexism in Wright’s film are jarring in their relatability, the overall message of the film remains muddied. Wright misses opportunity after opportunity to create a profound narrative of empowerment and solidarity, a narrative that feels so desperately needed in a year punctuated by violence against women.

The psychological horror-thriller begins promisingly, as Wright slowly unfolds a murder mystery of supernatural proportions. Audiences follow the wide-eyed, small-town, fashion student Eloise (Thomasin McKenzie) as she moves from rural Cornwall to the dark alleyed streets of London. Driven by a dream of designing 1960s themed clothing in an ode to her love for the era, Eloise’s passion for the vintage and her introverted personality isolates her from her classmates at the London College of Fashion, influencing our protagonist to move from the student halls to renting the room of a private home owned by a Ms Collins (the late Diana Rigg). The room is suitably adorned in the style of the 1960s and ghosts of the era seep through its walls and into the sleeping, and eventually waking, mind of Eloise.

“Disappointingly, any hope of achieving empowerment from the film in an ironic parallel of this climactic scene similarly goes up in flames”

It is here where the film picks up speed and the thriller is set into motion. When Eloise falls asleep, she sees herself in the glamourous form of an aspiring star of the sixties, the blonde, effortlessly chic and ravenously ambitious Sandie (Anya Taylor-Joy). Eloise watches as Sandie forces herself in front of the slick, suave manager Jack (Matt Smith) and falls headfirst into the murky world of 1960s showbiz. What follows is a sickening depiction of manipulation and oppression, as Sandie is forced into humiliating, sexualised roles which demean her shining talents, and eventually becomes exploited into sex work. This climaxes in what Eloise perceives to be the murder of Sandie at the hands of a viciously controlling Jack, and which she becomes determined to seek retribution for.

At this point, what Wright appears to promise is a tale of justice told across the decades. It seems to be a story of solidarity which both recognises the historical and continued plight of women while simultaneously demonstrating a woman’s ability to seek retribution and speak out against exploitation and oppression. However, what Wright’s film instead achieves is something murkier. In a shocking, and somewhat gratuitous, twist, it is revealed that Sandie is not the murdered but the murderer, driven by sexual exploitation to kill the men who attempted to abuse her. And further, the elusive housekeeper Ms Collins is exposed as an elderly Sandie who, when confronted by Eloise, then goes on to attempt to murder the girl who has only shown sympathy for her.

This shallow subversion of expectations by Wright confuses the message and tone of the film, placing the perpetrators of misogyny and abuse in the roles of victim, and villainising the woman whose traumatic exploitation is depicted graphically throughout the film’s runtime. A chance of generating a sense of solidarity is dismantled as the film’s two female protagonists end their journey together in a comedic cliché knife chase through the house they shared, which now dramatically burns around them. Disappointingly, any hope of achieving empowerment from the film in an ironic parallel of this climactic scene similarly goes up in flames.

"Last Night in Soho is by no means a bad film”

The elderly Sandie eventually chooses to burn with the house, sat on the bed which acted both as the scene of her crimes and sexual trauma. In this way, she becomes defined by her exploitation and her murderous reaction to it, with no real personality of her own besides glamour and ambition. The character is nothing beyond her trauma, even the elderly Ms Collins having very little substance beyond her elusive, caricature-like role as a housekeeper. We can pity Sandie, but her lack of character makes it hard for us to empathise with her. If Wright had kept the twist but fleshed out his female characters, the film could have delved into the damaged psyche of one faced with daily exploitation. What we instead get is a tactless, dramatic twist that undoes the theme of solidarity painfully promised throughout the earlier acts.


READ MORE

Mountain View

‘Looks Astonishing and Feels Duly Epic’ – Reviewing Villeneuve’s Dune

Last Night in Soho is by no means a bad film. The cinematography, editing, acting, and music all lead to a thrilling atmosphere and intense viewing experience. The neon-soaked streets of London so prevalent on the film’s poster provide an effective backdrop for an exploration into the darkest corners of fame alongside an expose of the dangers of pursuing dreams in the big city. However, where Wright falls short is in his twist, as what could have been a much-needed tale of female solidarity across the decades became a tale of gratuitous violence, laughable clichés and a failed attempt at a Me Too narrative. Not every film has to say something profound or reach for subversive social commentary, but a narrative of solidarity, justice or empowerment in Last Night in Soho feels sorely missed