SPOILERS HEREIN: 18 hours ago I saw Edgar Wright‘s Last Night in Soho. I had suspected I would probably have a bad time with it, but my God, it’s dreadful. Mindless, gaudy throwaway trash. Not to mention dull by way of a mind-numbing repetition of a #MeToo mantra — older men with bulging wallets are toxic beasts.
Wright got hold of something cool and throttled in the first two-thirds of Baby Driver, but now it’s gone. The bottom line is that he’s a completely untethered geek fetishist — he’s all about design and visual intensity and comic-book-level characters, and at the same time completely disengaged from anything even vaguely resembling an adult sensibility or, perish the thought, an ability to absorb and re-process life as a semi-complex, multi-layered thing. In short, Wright is 47 going on 14.
In the mid ’60s context of Last Night in Soho, Wright isn’t interested in trying to (let’s get creative!) partially channel the spirit of Roman Polanski by way of recalling or reanimating the 1965 atmosphere of Repulsion…God, what a stone cold slasher masterpiece that film is, especially compared to the slovenly Soho. Repulsion and Last Night in Soho are one year apart, and at the same time based in entirely separate galaxies.
Last Night in Soho essentially says one thing over and over. Ready? Older London men who went to flashy nightclubs in the mid ‘60s were cruel sexist pigs (which many of them doubtless were) and they all wanted to sexually exploit and abuse young women who needed the money. Which made them Hammer horror monsters of the darkest and scuzziest order.
But that was mid ‘60s London for you! Forget the seminal beginnings of the rock revolution. Forget the Yardbirds. Forget the mid ’60s Soho club scene that had begun to be dominated by London’s rock virtuosos and their many followers. Forget the musical and spiritual explosions conveyed by Aftermath and Rubber Soul. Forget John Lennon and George Harrison being dosed by a dentist in ’65 and experiencing their first-ever acid trip. Forget all that. Because in Wright’s view, 1966 London was crammed with creepy, sex-starved, Sexy Beast guys in their 40s and 50s who worshipped the Kray brothers.
Not to mention those four Heather bitches from fashion design school who do nothing but taunt and snicker at Thomasin McKenzie‘s innocent “Elly”.
But at least there’s one compassionate young dude (Michael Ajao‘s “John”) who genuinely cares for her, mainly because the Maoist woke mindset of 2021 has declared that all people of color are sainted figures. Which confirms that on top of his unrestrained geek indulgences Wright is just another obedient woke whore, singing the same hymn from the same “sing it or we might cancel you” hymn book…people of color are so good, so blessed, so pure of heart.
Mckenzie’s over-emoting drove me mad. In Wright’s view she’s Heidi..a country-girl waif who’s completely incapable of not being gobsmacked by everything and everyone she encounters, and incapable of restraining or modifying her emotional reactions.
Oh, yeah, I almost forgot: Anya Taylor Joy is in it. As McKenzie’s mid ’60s alter ago or spiritual kin. She’s basically posing (“am I hot or what?”), and it’s a nothing performance.
In Repulsion Catherine Deneuve becomes more and more unhinged in a trance-like, glassy-eyed way but she always keeps it submerged and very real. But McKenzie…Jesus God! She’s in a state of complete convulsive shock and amazement from the instant she arrives in London, and she never modifies, never turns it down. She’s always “acting” with a capital A.
Now that you mention it Wright does include an homage to a Repulsion scene, the one in which several arms emerge from the walls of Deneueve’s apartment. Oh, and remember that creepy, sweaty, sex-starved landlord from Repulsion? The one Deneuve slashes with a razor? He could be the model for all the middle-aged predators in Soho. (Along with the Crays!)
And poor Terrence Stamp, whose career exploded in the early to mid ’60s, and who has now been brought low by Wright. What an insult to the poor guy. A proper humiliation, spouting crude dialogue and wearing a ridiculous white-haired Hollywood wig…I almost wept.
And then it turns out that Diana Rigg‘s landlady character has watched Arsenic and Old Lace on the telly.
Wright is a truly horrible director of actors. No modifying or keeping it plain and low-key, always presuming that the popcorn inhalers are complete idiots who need everything spelled out in boldface…everything turned up to 11.
The more I think about it, the more I suspect that Repulsion probably was a major influence upon Last Night in Soho. The difference is that Polanski (who had a very difficult time accomplishing what he wanted to accomplish in Repulsion) was and is a visionary, go-his-own-way genius, and Wright is an adolescent shoveller of familiar tropes and visual impressions.