By Alex McPherson

A lusciously stylish descent into nostalgic madness, director Edgar Wright’s new film, “Last Night in Soho,” can’t match its technical brilliance with satisfying storytelling.

The film follows Eloise (Thomasin McKenzie), a naive soul obsessed with the 1960’s who leaves her rural village to study at the London School of Fashion. She’s haunted by ghostly apparitions, including her mother, a fashion designer who died when Eloise was seven.

Out of a desire to make it big and follow in her mother’s footsteps, Eloise arrives in the big city, unprepared for what she’ll find — social alienation. Her roommate, mean girl Jocasta (Synnove Karlsen), and others judge her for her supposedly antiquated interests, while pervy men casually harass her. To get away, Eloise rents a West London apartment maintained by a wryly funny landlady (the late Diana Rigg, giving a glorious performance in her final role). The room Eloise rents — bathed in flashing red and blue neon light — seems pleasant enough, if a bit creepy. 

One night in her slumber, Eloise is transported back to the 60’s to live in the shoes of Sandie (Anya Taylor Joy), an up-and-coming singer who wants to become the next Cilla Black. An embodiment of the sort of confident, ambitious woman that Eloise hopes to become one day — and a chanteuse able to sing a killer rendition of “Downtown” — Eloise quickly becomes infatuated with her. However, darker truths are revealed when Sandie gets involved with an alluring, slimy bugger named Jack (Matt Smith) who promises to make her a star. Sandie’s traumatic experiences start bleeding into Eloise’s present as increasingly morbid visions impact her waking life.

This storyline represents an interesting deviation from Wright’s male-driven comedy background. Unfortunately, “Last Night in Soho” feels jumbled, with a spellbinding first half that devolves into clichés by the conclusion. Still, the film is invigorating thanks to its deft craftsmanship and wholehearted performances from the entire cast, McKenzie and Taylor-Joy especially.

Indeed, Eloise is a sympathetic protagonist, a youthful fish-out-of-water struggling to fit in. McKenzie’s acting lends her an innocent vulnerability, making her rapid infatuation with Sandie somewhat believable, and her later descent into paranoia all the more disturbing. The last third requires McKenzie to be in constant panic mode, yet she keeps emotions grounded when the script proceeds in absurd directions.  

Eloise’s initial time-traveling visions are utterly fantastic — throwing her (and viewers) into a decadent world of glitz and glamour that blocks out the darkness lurking beneath the flashiness, featuring the pervasive pop culture references that Wright specializes in. With shimmy-worthy tunes blaring in the background, these sequences are a pure joy, most notably a hypnotic dance sequence involving Taylor-Joy and McKenzie being swapped back-and-forth mid twirl.

“Last Night in Soho” shines in these instances, where Eloise and Sandie are experiencing the euphoric bliss of realizing their dreams with sky-high hopes for the future. This idea of escaping into an idealistic version of the past is, in fact, a key theme in “Last Night in Soho.” Eloise gradually sees the cracks in the facade, observing how the sexism of the time continues to infest the London of today, rendering her deeply traumatized. 

Although Wright and co-writer Krysty Wilson-Cairns aren’t able to massage this concept into something truly impactful, Wright deploys nearly every cinematic tool at his disposal to catch viewers off-guard in the grim second half, in which the film shifts from a coming-of-age tale to a mystery to outright horror. Combining giallo-inflected, fever-dream lighting and camera movements with a soundscape mixing together classic tunes and foreboding ambiance with whispers of dialogue, “Last Night in Soho” depicts Eloise’s mental turmoil with immersive aplomb.

However, this jack-of-all-trades approach sacrifices the dramatic pull that could have elevated it to another level. Firstly, we don’t get to spend enough time with Sandie for her to feel like a fully developed character. Taylor-Joy brings a confident energy to her performance that’s always entertaining to watch, but Sandie is kept frustratingly distanced from viewers throughout. We only witness snippets from the highs and lows of Sandie’s burgeoning career, eschewing nuance to keep the story moving forward at an overly brisk pace. 

Additionally, when the horror arrives, “Last Night in Soho” has predictable jump scares and generic-looking baddies. It also lacks much of the clever self-awareness that helped make Wright’s other films so successful. Moments of dark comedy are certainly here — Terence Stamp chews scenery to a pulp as a sketchy creep who would fit in well among the “Greater Good” crowd — but “Last Night in Soho” takes itself quite seriously, even in its ludicrous finale, in which Sandie takes center-stage and Eloise’s arc is left frustratingly streamlined.

Along with a token Black character willing to risk his life for Eloise despite barely knowing her and an unnecessary slasher detour in the climax, the film becomes ever-more trippy, losing sight of the real societal issues that Wright and Wilson-Cairns obviously care so much about.

“Last Night in Soho” is easy to get lost in. When you peel back the curtain, though, it’s a cinematic ride built on a rickety foundation.

Thomasin McKenzie

“The Last Night in Soho” is a 2021 psychological mystery-thriller directed by Edgar Wright and starring Thomasin McKenzie, Anya Taylor-Joy, Diana Rigg, Terence Stamp, Matt Smith. Its run time is 1 hour, 56 minutes, and it is rated R for bloody violence, sexual content, language, brief drug material and brief graphic nudity. It opened in theatres Oct. 29. Alex’s Grade: B.

By Lynn Venhaus
Half-baked and bogged down by subtext, the high concept “Old” fritters away its intriguing potential by dispensing too little explanation in its trouble-in-paradise vacation plot.

A dream vacation turns into a nightmare for tourists at a luxury resort, who start out spending the day at a secluded private beach, but a mysterious and sinister force results in rapid aging, reducing their lives to the remaining hours in the day as they race against time.

And, despite a good cast, the everything-but-the-kitchen-sink story winds up a tedious exercise heavily borrowing from Agatha Christie’s “And Then There Were None” – that age-old chestnut in which a group of people are thrown together at a remote location, but are somehow connected, and the corpse count piles up.

As he is known to do, writer-director M. Night Shyamalan bends time and logic to suit a story about medical testing with tragic results — all for the greater good. Shades of pandemic paranoia!

With his penchant for riddles and games, Shyamalan features some interesting developments — and of course, delivers his patented “twist,” but in the meantime, one can be distracted by things that do not make sense, even for a sci-fi-laced adventure.

However, the script is not an original one, for it is based on a Belgian-Italian graphic novel called “Sandcastle” by Pierre-Oscar Levy and Frederick Peeters.

Ever since the post-atomic age films, starting in the 1950s, mad scientists and unscrupulous doctors have been part of the cinematic landscape. And a luxury resort, with its flip on “The Love Boat” genre, provides both lush and mysterious landscapes.  Cinematographer Mike Gioulakis captures the beauty and the foreboding elements while overwrought music score by Trevor Gureckis swells.

Eleven characters are enjoying fun in the sun when a young woman’s body is found floating in the water (Francesca Eastwood as Madrid). Then, the parents notice their children appear older– their growth acceleration is alarming, and various actors take on the roles of Trent, at first a precocious 6-year-old, and Maddox, 11, when the journey begins, the children of Guy (Gael Garcia Bernal) and Prisca (Vicky Krieps).

Alex Wolff and Thomasin McKenzie play the older teenage siblings. Eliza Scanlen, Beth in Greta Gerwig’s “Little Women,” is the 15-year-old Kara, the daughter of Charles (Rufus Sewell) and Chrystal (Abbey Lee). Their sexual maturation is a tad disconcerting, given the ‘hours’ in the day, as well.

Tensions escalate as the group is at a loss for what’s happening. If this were an episode of “Survivor,” this tribe would have voted the arrogant and unstable doctor, played by Sewell off the island first.

Unfortunately, these characters are all one-note, for there isn’t time to shade them with more nuance. Aaron Pierre plays rapper Mid-Size Sedan, who is looked upon with suspicion by Charles in one of the uglier subplots.

The characters who enter a cave have their heads hurt – but that isn’t explained, and is it symptomatic of what’s taking place? Not sure what’s being pulled here by the characters playing God.

The standard “problems in our marriage” is heavily used and is tiresome, especially with little backstory. Bernal, who hasn’t followed his performance as Che Guevera in 2004’s “The Motorcycle Diaries” with anything on that level film-wise, although was terrific in “Mozart in the Jungle,” disappears into the bland patriarch role. He has little chemistry with Krieps, whose “Phantom Thread” performance was outstanding, even if they are playing a mom-and-dad on the rocks.

Good supporting work is by Ken Leung, who was in the time-twister series “Lost,” as compassionate nurse Jarin, who is married to Patricia, a therapist with epilepsy, well-played by Nikki Amuka-Bird. She is eager for the group to talk it out, but she is largely ignored, as assumptions and rash decisions increase.

We are on a collision course on this death train, and that’s just the way these horrific adventures go for those trapped in isolated surroundings.

Some of the deaths are particularly gruesome, and the camera lingers excessively on a few inevitable demises, with Brett M. Reed the on-the-nose editor. Why do some cuts heal and some don’t? If you value consistency, even in a horror movie, you will be scratching your head.

There is a better movie hidden in this somewhere. While Alfred Hitchcock didn’t hit it out of the park every film, we should expect a well-constructed story if you are goi g to emulate the master of suspense. You don’t need a film scholar to lecture you on what happens and why – it should be obvious.

Shyamalan, who wowed audiences with 1998’s “The Sixth Sense,” but has been hit-or-miss ever since (and I say this as a fan of “Unbreakable,” “Signs,” “The Visit,” “Split” and yes, even the derided “The Village”), will always be worth a look.

While not entirely unwatchable, “Old” is not the satisfying yarn I had hoped it would be.

Oh, and that Jack Nicholson and Marlon Brando movie that Charles can’t remember is “The Missouri Breaks.”

“Old” is a 2021 sci-fi thriller directed by M. Night Shyamalan and starring Gael Garcia Bernal, Vicky Krieps, Rufus Sewell, Abbey Lee, Alex Wolff, Thomasin McKenzie, Eliza Scanlen and Aaron Pierre. Rated PG-13 for strong violence, disturbing images, suggestive content, partial nudity and brief strong language, its run time is 1 hour, 48 minutes. Available in theaters on July 23. Lynn’s Grade: C-.